Agency of the Year: A Maturing Droga5 Still Hasn’t Lost Its Edge

With a broader range and bigger ideas, the shop only seems to get better

The inspiration for "This Is Wholesome," the phenomenal, very un-Droga5-like campaign that the agency created for Honey Maid this year, came on a playground in New York's East Village.

That’s where agency executive creative director Kevin Brady sat on a sunny weekend morning in November 2013, watching his 8-year-old daughter play with friends when he noticed a leather-clad and pierced mom and dad helping their young son navigate the monkey bars. Nearby, two dads pushed two daughters side by side on swings.

For a moment, Brady stopped being a dad and took in the scene as an adman. He thought that he may have found a solution for a difficult, single-word creative brief for a graham cracker brand that’s been around for 89 years but has changed in recent times.

"It just hit me that this is wholesome," recalls Brady, who studied foreign affairs in college and strives to achieve higher meaning in ads. "No matter how they look, they are beautiful, wholesome families."

A few days later, marketing leaders at Honey Maid parent Mondelez gave the go-ahead to the idea of celebrating modern families of all types for what they have in common. And within four months, the first ad had made it on air, generating an avalanche of positive and negative comments in social media and becoming part of a national debate about same-sex marriage.

Andrew Essex, Vice Chairman | Photo: Kevin Scanlon

The ad also helped redefine Droga5, an 8-year-old agency known for its grasp of the male id, by creating some of the most heartfelt, emotional and talked-about ads in the industry.

Leading the way was "This Is Wholesome," which has generated 8.02 million views and 2,868 comments on YouTube; followed by Under Armour Women’s “Will Trumps Fate,” about a determined ballerina overcoming naysayers to achieve greatness, with 6.7 million views and 2,010 comments; and “Suck It,” Anna Kendrick’s salty riposte to Newcastle Brown Ale for hiring her for a would-be Super Bowl ad only to pull the plug, with 5.2 million views and counting.

“We’re an industry that for many decades used to look at things that when we finished producing something, you put a bow around it and it was done,” says agency creative chairman David Droga, an Aussie whose confidence belies his 46 years. “Now we spend a great deal of time thinking about where it’s going to go, why would anyone care, what are the ramifications of it—just really trying to map out [a plan], as opposed to putting it out somewhere and just hoping that people would like it or hoping that it sticks. That’s embedded in the strategies that we pick—thinking about what’s going to hit a cultural vein or a nerve.”

Sarah Thompson, Global CEO | Photo: Kevin Scanlon

It was a Very Good Year

Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year also grew massively in revenue and staff. Net revenue jumped 44 percent to an estimated $78 million via more than a dozen new assignments from marketers that included Reckitt Benckiser, Georgia-Pacific, Google, Blizzard Entertainment, Jockey and Dun & Bradstreet.

At the same time, the staff in New York more than doubled to 320, triggering a move to 92,000 square feet of space in a building on Wall Street, of all places, after six years on Lafayette Street in the East Village. Indeed, the agency that began in Droga’s kitchen in 2006 became a bona fide industry leader in many ways in 2014. As the founder puts it, “It may be my foreigner coming out, but the fact that I’m on Wall Street sort of makes me smile a little bit in a funny way, you know?”

Some of the new clients this year came looking for what Kraft first sought when it unexpectedly hired the shop in 2010: some creative juice for mature, packaged-good brands. After years of consolidating most of their brands at just a few core agencies, Reckitt Benckiser and Georgia-Pacific, in Kraft-like moves, expanded their rosters to include the likes of Wieden + Kennedy, The Martin Agency, Cutwater and Droga5.

Ted Royer, Chief Creative Officer | Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Reckitt Benckiser, for one, was drawn by the swagger and pop-culture links of Droga5’s “Wild Rabbit” campaign for Hennessy cognac (the agency’s work for the liquor brand earned it a bronze at this year’s Clio Awards). And its faux Super Bowl push for Newcastle, which played out entirely online, cleaned up at industry awards like the Clios (where it won three trophies) and was selected as Adweek’s Ad of the Year. But what convinced Laurent Faracci, RB’s svp of global marketing and digital excellence, to hire the shop in May to tackle two of the company’s biggest brands—Air Wick and Clearasil—was a big idea that became the foundation of a new campaign for the air freshener that broke last week. The agency found an “amazing way to engage consumers on what makes your house a home,” explains Faracci.

The first ad tells the story of a military family in North Carolina sending candles that smell like things from home (a baseball glove, an apple pie, a burning fireplace) to “Daddy,” a soldier stationed in Qatar. The tagline is, “Home is in the air.”

Susie Nam, Head of Accounts, General Manager |