2008 Creativity Award Winner: UNICEF: Tap Project

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All it took was a simple challenge from Esquire and a free page in the magazine for David Droga to create what would eventually become the Tap Project, now a global humanitarian effort and brand. Named one of the "Best and Brightest" in said publication's December 2006 issue, the Droga5 creative chairman took his page, avoided any predictable advertising moves and, partnering with pro bono client UNICEF, announced a simple idea based around water. The Tap Project was launched last year in New York to commemorate March 22nd as World Water Day and asked patrons of several participating restaurants in the Big Apple to tack on a minimum of $1 to their bill for every glass of tap they drank, which would thus help provide drinking water to 40 children a day. After reaching over 80 million people through media outlets, earning praise and action from celebs and politicians, Tap garnered Droga5 a Titanium Lion at Cannes 2007. But more importantly, the initial effort earned UNICEF over $5 million, the equivalent of 1.7 million days' worth of water for children. After having rolled out across 30 cities in North America this year, the project has continued to thrive and will expand internationally in 2009.

Q&A with Droga5 Creative Chairman David Droga

Esquire gave you a blank canvas to work on, and you came up with the Tap Project. Where did the idea come from?

Droga: I'm in the business of building brands, so as an exercise, I wanted to see if I could build a brand from a single-page ad out of nothing and create something. I thought I didn't want to do it for any of our existing clients or for just commercial reasons. I was just really interested in the whole global water issue. At this step, UNICEF wasn't even involved. This was my intent, that I wanted to do it for water. I already knew some of the facts, but I did a lot more research and the more I learned about what UNICEF was doing particularly around the world with children and this water issue, the more I thought this is an opportunity that only fits UNICEF.

I had the thought about building a brand out of tap water. I just knocked on UNICEF's door. It's invisible to us literally. We sit in restaurants, bistros and bars and have a glass of water for nothing, and we don't even think about it. When you go into the statistics, it's horrifying. Then, I pitched the idea to Esquire saying that's what I wanted to do with my one page. To their credit, they were all over it and actually turned it into a three-page thing. Then, we organized everything from the ground up. We organized the celebrity chefs because we knew if we got the top 15 chefs in the country like Mario Batali, then other chefs and restaurants would want to be a part of it. Then, we organized the PR and got Sarah Jessica Parker as an ambassador and it just started to unfold where more and more people started to see the benefit of the idea. And only after we created the design, logos and brand identity and advertising for it.

How did you develop the strategy to build awareness?

Droga: Before we even got to any advertising elements beyond the logo, we thought about how do we get the stakeholders involved, how do we roll it out, how do we get the community behind it. Then, we mapped that out internally at [Droga5] and then brought outside PR people who had more celebrities and such. Then, when politicians got behind it, it took off. This actually concerns everybody and it's something to remind people of how lucky they are and how they can still enjoy the benefits of what they've got. It's obviously an idea that has its own momentum which is amazing. But we were still a new agency, so the next step was where can we take an idea like this—it's an idea that can be scaled so much—and we had so much interest globally from media and other agencies.

Quite objectively, we thought wouldn't it be amazing to make this an industry initiative. In 2007, we just rolled it out for one day on World Water Day as a pilot for New York. If you could roll it out in New York, you could do it anywhere. This year, it was rolled out cross-country and we made it for a week now. The next year, we're going international and more across the U.S. The key is that UNICEF is signing deals with chains now and not just one-off restaurants.

What was the challenge of such a seemingly large undertaking?

Droga: The challenge when you create something you think is really strong is to keep it simple, particularly when you're dealing with something that has many elements to it. You've just got to make sure it stays pure because it would be very easy to add multiple layers on it and make it more complex. I think that's why this resonated with so many people out there.

What were the risks, if any, of taking on a charitable project like this?

Droga: You've got to think that at the end of the day, basically we're piggybacking on the goodwill of restaurants all over the country. Restaurants make more money from bottled water than anything else. From the get-go, we had to make it very clear that this was not an anti-bottled water campaign. It was promotion of the fact you had the option of tap water. If someone chooses to drink bottled water at the table, they could still contribute their money to Tap at the end of their meal. Or if they choose to drink tap, it's the same thing. Also, it was very clear that this was all about the optimism of what we can do and how we can make a difference as opposed to a really negative campaign of shock and horror. The facts are alarming but we didn't want to rub that in anyone's face. We wanted to show hope.

Check out more of the 2008 Creativity Award winners.
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