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Q&A: David Droga breaks advertising moulds in the digital age Add to ...

David Droga knows a thing or two about advertising.

A wunderkind who became a creative director in his twenties, he has gone on to a distinguished career that has landed him in the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement, and has led the agency he founded, Droga5, to success. He is the most awarded creative at the Cannes advertising festival. But he is also a vocal critic of the industry, calling out creative laziness and praising a digital age that lets consumers ignore bad ads more easily than ever.

Mr. Droga spoke with The Globe and Mail about advertising that works, and what’s coming next.

You were recently named chairman of the 50th International ANDY Awards. Is there actual value in award shows for advertising?

There are certainly a lot of award shows – we may rival the entertainment industry. There are generally speaking, globally, too many shows. But then, there are a handful that are very important … they’re more than just an ego stroke. It’s a way of recording how we’re moving forward, and setting benchmarks for next year and the year after. … Once something’s been awarded, it forces us to move on and be more original. It allows clients to realize there are people in the same categories as them, or in neighbouring categories, who are pushing, and setting benchmarks they may want to aspire to. The ANDYs has been around for 50 years and it’s always done that. From a judge’s perspective, I also like the fact that it’s comprehensive. Award shows have become so big now that they’re segmented into categories so much. As a creative person, you only get to see one very narrow part of the industry. You might just look at television, or cyber, or mobile. The ANDYs is comprehensive. You really get to see the ecosystem of our industry in all its glory, and how things interact. I think that’s why it’s always a treat for the people who do judge it. You get to really do a cross-section of the state of the industry, as opposed to just one dimension of it. That’s why it’s important. … You need to be motivated, and nothing motivates you like seeing great work other people have created.

As president of the new Innovation jury in Cannes this year, you said you were encouraged by the opportunity to award “ideas and thinking not necessarily limited to a single brand, moment or campaign.” Why is that important now?

We are not just creating advertising that fits into a 30-second commercial … Sometimes that manifests itself in a 30-second narrative, and sometimes it can be a new product. ... Not everything we create is a disposable advertisement. Sometimes it can be long-term product thinking, a strategic road map for the brand, or partnerships and alliances they haven’t thought about. We may have the creative hat, but we can have business boots.

Droga5 nabbed quite a few awards for its work for Prudential Insurance, which told real stories of people’s first day of retirement through photos and intimate short films. This kind of storytelling seems to be more common. Why do you think that is?

Nothing connects with people like humanity. That doesn’t mean you have to tell slice-of-life stories all the time. But you know, with so many options in technology, the consumer’s not really that interested in advertising. … They are interested in great stories. That transcends any medium. … Life insurance and financial services has been quite a patronizing category for the last 30 or 40 years. We wanted to try and humanize it … Instead of scaring [consumers] that they’re all going to retire poor or trick them into thinking they’re all going to retire with a yacht, make them realize there are people just like them going through things just like them, and make them realize that we’re on their side. There’s honesty and truth in that. ... As huge as reality TV is now in the world, look, what’s the reflex to that? Reality TV is not going anywhere but, the backlash to that has been this influx of great programming, great storytelling on all these cable channels – and you’ve got Netflix now – HBO, Showtime. Not everyone wants to skim and graze. We’re moved by emotions, and characters, and stories. We love that.

At the same time, you wrote in Esquire recently that a lot of agencies are pushing the panic button right now. How has technological change forced advertising to rethink what it is?

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