David Droga was recently lionized, almost literally, at the Cannes festival for his body of work over the course of a brilliant career. A lot of that success has come, of course, at his eponymous agency Droga5—which swung for the fences with its very first piece of work in 2006, and connected in a big way.
It was a viral video for Marc Ecko, showing grainy footage of what appeared to be a graffiti artist jumping a fence at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and tagging one of the engines on Air Force One with the words “Still Free.”
Just a year after the advent of YouTube, the video—which Khari Streeter of Hill Holliday picks as one of his favorites in our new “Best Ads Ever” video—quickly went viral. It was reported on across cable news, particularly on the political networks, where pundits were astonished that anyone could have gotten so close to the president’s plane—for the rebellious purpose of spraying graffiti on it.
It was all faked, of course, though few outside the agency and client immediately knew it. (In the end, the Pentagon had to officially deny the video’s authenticity three separate times.)
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The point was to reinforce Ecko’s graffiti heritage and street cred after the brand had become increasingly mainstream. The video got 23 million unique views in the first two weeks, and was reported on by more than 17,000 news outlets, says Droga5—all with zero media spend.
“Ecko is a very poignant one for us because it was essentially the first thing we did that we put out into the world,” Droga told Adweek in 2016. “In one way, it kind of helped create—I won’t say invented—but it helped create the whole phenomenon of brands doing viral things online. We had to game the system. We had to create a film, anonymously, that implied someone broke into Andrews Air Force Base and sprayed graffiti on Air Force One, and rely on the news media to push it out there. I mean, that’s about as ambitious and crazy as you can get.”
Streeter, a creative director at Hill Holliday, told us he loved the Ecko piece because it “wasn’t heavily branded, was very disruptive, and sparked all this conversation between me and my friends. Not just my ad friends but people outside advertising, people in graffiti, all these people I knew. It was a nice example of something having social capital and not just serving the brand so outright.”
He added: “You questioned all these things, like, How did they do that? Is it for real? Who’s the agency involved? All those questions weren’t transparent. And it really drove the viral-ness of it. It was definitely one of my favorite tactics.”
The Ecko campaign won a Titanium Lion and a Cyber Grand Prix at Cannes, firmly putting Droga5 on the map and hinting at the heights it would achieve over the next decade.
Check out the Streeter video at the top of this story for his other favorite ads (see them in full below), as well as some Hill Holliday work that he’s been particular proud of. And to see the whole “Best Ads Ever” series, click here.