Droga’s Delicious World

Mondelez, Coca-Cola fuel growth, as Prudential gets love at Cannes

Some 400 members of Mondelez International’s global team huddled in Istanbul two months ago to talk about the company’s future. It was their first meeting since Kraft spun off the new snack foods business earlier in the year, and the assembled represented Mondelez’s leaders across developing markets, which constitute some 44 percent of its revenue and drive its growth.

Just one individual outside Mondelez was tapped for that meeting: David Droga.

With the founder and creative chairman of agency Droga5, “you feel that kind of sense of calm,” says Dana Anderson, svp of marketing strategy and communication at Mondelez (a mash-up of the Latin terms for “delicious” and “world”). “And boy, he sure knows where he’s going, and you feel comfortable, like ‘I’ll get in the car.’ ”

The hard-boiled creative competence of Droga5, Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year, was on full display in 2012. U.S. revenue grew 43 percent to an estimated $41 million, as the agency attracted brands like American Express Travel. It bolstered its rep for good works, raising more than $1 million to bring clean water to kids in need in the sixth year of its Tap Project for Unicef, and winning the Cannes Grand Prix for Good with its bone marrow donor campaign for Help Remedies.

The agency deepened its New York roots, hiring and promoting key talent as it grew its digital business and expanded offerings to include analytics, public relations and a strategic consulting service, Point. It also launched De-De, a separate business aimed at designing and developing tech products. Its first product was Thunderclap, a crowd-organizing tool for Twitter that was employed by President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Significantly, Droga5 this year earned the confidence of clients at multibrand corporations, and turned that trust into additional assignments. Total agency revenue from Kraft and Mondelez spiked by some 140 percent, driven by the addition of the Cracker Barrel and Honey Maid brands. Droga5 declined to name any other Kraft or Mondelez products it may be working on, but, according to industry sources, it also added responsibilities for breakfast brand belVita. All told, Kraft-Mondelez became Droga5’s biggest source of revenue in 2012.

“They are as concerned and interested and passionate about strategy as they are about the work itself as well as they are about their relationship with you,” says Anderson. “It’s incredible quality control.”

Adds Pio Schunker, svp of integrated marketing platforms for North America at Coca-Cola: “Whether it’s Prudential, whether it’s Puma, whether it’s Newcastle, they really adapt themselves to the brand in question.” In August, Droga5 was hired as lead creative on Coke Zero, which spent $35 million on media in 2011, per Kantar. Shortly thereafter, Coca-Cola handed Droga5 Smartwater, which spent $11 million across media in 2011.

“They don’t impose their brand on the brand, and that was a really crucial factor for us—that [the campaign] needed to feel like Coke Zero, that it did not need to feel like a Droga5 campaign,” Schunker says.

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.” 

@GabrielBeltrone gabriel.beltrone@gmail.com Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.