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DAVID DROGA IS THE BOLDEST THINKER IN A TROU­BLED IN­DUS­TRY. CAN HIS VI­SION OF A NEW KIND OF AGENCY LEAD THE AD WORLD OUT OF THE DARK­NESS?

Fast Company - - Nest Cam IQ - By Jonathan Rin­gen Pho­to­graphs by To­bias Hut­zler

In the spot, the dis­em­bod­ied voices of ca­ble-news pun­dits chat­ter away as var­i­ous state­ments flash in black let­ters on a plain white screen:

The truth is our na­tion is more di­vided than ever.

The truth is al­ter­na­tive facts are lies.

The truth is women’s rights are hu­man rights.

The truth is we have to pro­tect our bor­ders.

It con­cludes with a tagline: “The truth is more im­por­tant now than ever.”

The com­mer­cial went vi­ral, rack­ing up more than 15 mil­lion Youtube views. Stephen Colbert made a par­ody ver­sion, pub­li­ca­tions across the coun­try cov­ered it as a news story of its own, and the pres­i­dent him­self turned his Sau­ron-like eye on the cam­paign via his fa­vorite chan­nel of un­fil­tered com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Twit­ter: “For first time the fail­ing @ny­times will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its fail­ing rep­u­ta­tion. Try re­port­ing ac­cu­rately & fairly!”

For ad-in­dus­try watch­ers, it was this rep­e­ti­tion and am­pli­fi­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal mes­sage across so many chan­nels that was most im­pres­sive. In fact, it’s one of the sig­na­tures of the New York–based agency that cre­ated it, Droga5. From its found­ing in 2006, the com­pany has looked for novel ways to feed its mes­sages into the larger me­dia and pop-cul­ture ma­chine, dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing reach and im­pact. The strat­egy doesn’t al­ways work, but when it does—as with the New York Times cam­paign—the ef­fect is sig­nif­i­cant. “Just know­ing you’re putting some­thing out there that could take on a greater life, that’s our sweet spot,” says David Droga, the agency’s Aus­tralia-born founder and cre­ative chair­man. “That’s what we try to do.”

Droga—who has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing out­spo­ken, edgy, and crit­i­cal of his in­dus­try—is one of the ad busi­ness’s key thinkers at a mo­ment of ma­jor un­cer­tainty. Last year, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing in the United States ex­ceeded tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing for the first time, with $72.5 bil­lion spent on­line ver­sus $71.3 bil­lion paid for TV spots, ac­cord­ing to a Price­wa­ter­house­c­oop­ers re­port. With 30sec­ond TV spots in­creas­ingly be­ing re­placed by pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing on Face­book and Google, the cre­ative work done by tra­di­tional agen­cies mat­ters far less than data an­a­lyt­ics and tar­get­ing.

Yet de­spite these in­dus­try-wide chal­lenges, Droga5 is thriv­ing. As an early mas­ter of vi­ral­ity and share­abil­ity in the Face­book–youtube era, Droga has learned how to cut through the clut­ter. His com­pany won $65 mil­lion in new busi­ness in 2016, and to­tal rev­enue was up from $126 mil­lion in 2015 to $170 mil­lion last year. The agency is as com­fort­able with so­cial me­dia strat­egy as it is with big-dol­lar TV spots, which has at­tracted a wildly di­verse ros­ter of clients, from Chase (for which it helped a New York bak­ery cre­ate a vi­ral sen­sa­tion around a gi­ant dough­nut as part of a credit-card cam­paign) to deep-pock­eted ath­letic-wear brands such as Un­der Ar­mour (celebrity-stoked ads star­ring Michael Phelps and the bal­le­rina Misty Copeland) and tech firms like Mailchimp (a sur­re­al­ist, mul­ti­pronged ef­fort de­signed to in­crease brand aware­ness). Last year, Droga5 even did a few ads for the Hil­lary Clin­ton

Just over a month af­ter Don­ald Trump was sworn in as the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States, The New York Times launched its first ma­jor ad cam­paign in re­cent mem­ory. At its cen­ter was a pow­er­ful, min­i­mal­ist TV com­mer­cial that de­buted dur­ing the Fe­bru­ary 26 Acad­emy Awards broad­cast.

cam­paign, in­clud­ing a widely shared spot that de­picted kids watch­ing some of Trump’s most no­to­ri­ous state­ments. “I look at the strat­egy and what hap­pened, and se­cretly I wish we spent more time build­ing her up, rather than at­tack­ing Trump,” Droga now says. “We were so emo­tion­ally in­vested in that idea [of go­ing af­ter Trump].”

As Droga’s ap­proach has gone main­stream, com­pe­ti­tion has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly. Sev­eral of the planet’s big­gest man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cies, in­clud­ing Ac­cen­ture and Deloitte, are creep­ing onto Droga5’s turf by buy­ing up smaller ad firms and fold­ing them into their port­fo­lio of ser­vices, and vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor brand, from Boe­ing to Pepsi, has launched in-house ad di­vi­sions, cut­ting out in­de­pen­dent agen­cies with years of mes­sag­ing ex­per­tise. And within the agency world, shops both small and large are em­brac­ing data and tech­nol­ogy as part of the trend known as “Agency 3.0.”

Like the rest of us, Droga gen­er­ally finds ad­ver­tis­ing in­va­sive and an­noy­ing. As he notes, “We work in an in­dus­try where peo­ple in­vent tech­nol­ogy to avoid what we cre­ate.” Which is why he’s re­lent­lessly fo­cused on craft­ing cam­paigns that con­sumers re­ceive will­ingly, be­cause of their hu­mor or pathos or just by virtue of be­ing re­ally in­ter­est­ing. “Droga has in­cred­i­ble range,” says David Rubin, The New York Times’s head of brand. “They have the abil­ity to tell sto­ries in lots of dif­fer­ent emo­tions, and that’s re­ally im­por­tant.” Droga him­self has a sim­ple take on what his agency does best. “It’s crude, but the essence, whether we’re talk­ing to a bil­lion-dol­lar client or a startup, is: Why would any­one give a shit about what we’re mak­ing?” he says. “Not, Do we think it’s cool or clever or funny or wor­thy? It’s, Why is this rel­e­vant?”

Droga is sit­ting in his cor­ner of­fice at the com­pany’s Wall

Street head­quar­ters. The agency moved to the hand­some pre­war tower in 2014, and it re­cently ex­panded from five floors to eight. “At first, I was like, ‘No fuck­ing way am I mov­ing to Wall Street,’ ” says Droga, whose firm was pre­vi­ously housed in a loft­like space in the hip­ster-friendly zone of Noho (there is also an of­fice in Lon­don). “But

Sarah Thompson, Droga5’s global CEO, is steer­ing the agency to­ward a strat­egy that goes far be­yond tra­di­tional mar­ket­ing.

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