When Droga5 launched in 2006, Droga was already a star, having risen through Saatchi & Saatchi to become global CCO of Publicis Worldwide. It didn’t take long for his namesake agency to make waves. Its first ever ad, a subversive video stunt featuring designer Marc Ecko spray painting graffiti on a plane resembling Air Force One, went viral, forcing a denial from the Pentagon and winning a Grand Prix at Cannes.
Fast-forward to 2012, when the agency’s Prudential campaign, revolving around the first day of retirement, picked up a gold Lion in the south of France. The staid financial giant, which hired Droga5 in 2010, is now the agency’s second largest client.
“What we tried to do with Ecko was relevant to his category, to his audience—street-wise and much grittier,” Droga explains. “For Prudential, it was the same philosophy. We tried to do something that elevated the category but speaks to its audience.”
Deep creative roots aside, 2012 is, in a way, the year Droga5 grew up. “We’ve invested and those investments have borne fruit,” says agency CEO Andrew Essex. “We’re in the big leagues now.”
Adds president Sarah Thompson: “You wouldn’t necessarily look at Droga5 two years ago, doing some very spiky stuff for Puma and Method, and say, ‘OK, that’s a Prudential agency’ ... Because there has been so much excitement around the campaign, it’s very organically evolved into a bigger partnership. We’re getting much more involved on the digital front and helping them create content, so I feel like Prudential has just begun. There will be more next year.”
As Droga puts it: “We’re becoming a real, legitimate, robust business now. When I think about the amount of people we have and the talent we have, you’re less reckless in a sense. You can still have the spirit of being brave ... but it can’t be completely shoot from the hip.”
The agency grew its New York staff 41 percent this year to 165 employees and expanded its New York HQ by more than 10,000 square feet. The new hires plus a wave of promotions aimed at retaining core talent were supported by a covenant-light investment in January from a group led by businessman Henry Silverman and Clear Channel honcho Bob Pittman.
From a new-business perspective, Droga5 entered the year strong, riding the wave of two assignments it picked up in December 2011: Heineken’s Amstel Light and additional work from client Puma on the sportswear brand’s Teamsport soccer unit. The winning streak continued into 2012, as the shop snagged its second Heineken brand, Newcastle Brown Ale. One of the ideas Droga5 presented during that pitch eventually became the “Miners” spot which won a bronze Lion at Cannes this year. But brand director Charles van Es says it was the agency’s focus on translating the category-mocking “No Bollocks” campaign to even the smallest-bore executions—beer coasters, tap handles—that was particularly refreshing. When Ted Royer, ecd on the brand, called van Es to suggest a snarky billboard placement setting straight an adjacent Stella Artois ad’s use of the word “chalice,” it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “It was a great way for us to put our money where our mouth is,” says van Es.
Newcastle enjoyed a sales bump of 5 percent YOY. Meanwhile, Mondelez’s Honey Maid upped sales by 17 percent and share of market 2 percent, per Nielsen, due in part to Droga5’s push of a new Grahamfuls product and the first TV ad for that brand in more than a decade. Droga5’s “Wild Rabbit” push for Hennessey, meanwhile, helped sales rebound following the economic downturn, says U.S. svp, marketing Rodney Williams.
On the cusp of a new year, Droga5 remains bullish, hunting for an auto client to add to its roster, exploring the opening of an additional office in Europe and prepping new work for brands like Hennessy and Puma.
Says Puma’s outgoing global CMO Antonio Bertone: “I want us to leave an amazing impact [at the World Cup] in Brazil in 2014. To do so, you need to bring a weapon like Droga to the table.”