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Adland producing ‘mediocre crap’, warns David Droga

The advertising industry’s most celebrated Australian creative David Droga has warned that brands are producing “a lot of mediocre crap” because executives put energy into justifying mediocrity rather than delivering great work.

Speaking on a panel at Advertising Week New York, the founder of agency Droga5 said one reason he had been inspired to start his agency a decade ago was to be free to do better work.

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Droga: “A lot of mediocre crap”

Droga5 is one of the world’s most awarded agencies, with clients including Coca-Cola, Google, Heineken, Motorola, Under Armour, T-Mobile, Toyota, Unilever and the Barack Obama election campaign.

Asked about the state of advertising, Droga said: “There is a lot of mediocre crap out there. It’s formulaic, across our industry and a lot of other industries. Playing it safe has become mainstream.

“Thank heavens there’s always a need for great stuff that resonates.

“It’s not that people are trying to produce bad stuff; no-one sets out to make mediocre, average stuff, but there are sometimes realities and compromises, and survival takes over and people do what’s necessary to get through to the next thing. A lot of responsible people make bad things.

“There are whole departments built around justifying mediocrity.”

He added: “It takes as much energy to try and do something great as it does to justify something average and I’d rather apply my time and my talents to try to do something really good.

“In advertising you can skin it so many ways, there’ll be one way of justifying why this was great and I feel as a consumer not just someone in the industry, we all know what’s good and what resonates with us, and I want to be on that side of the equation.”

Droga also revealed his reasons for leaving Publicis Groupe where he had risen to become one of the youngest worldwide creative directors of all time. He said he felt like a puppet, with the network using him as  “prop” to roll out at pitches, although he couldn’t be involved in the work.

He said: “You want something until you have it. I had the nice title, the corner office, the big salary but I realised I was not happy.

“It’s so far removed from the creative product. I was being wheeled out like a creative prop, but everything I was talking about I wasn’t acting on or implementing. With any company you have a puppet story.”

And he conceded: “Another reason was my competitive ego – do I have the guts to quit a job most people would want?”

He said: “That’s the advantage of starting my own place. I didn’t want to surround myself with people whose job is to find reasons not to happen.

“The ability to say no, that is liberating. To not have to take on certain clients, to not have to produce a certain part of content just for the sake of it. That is incredible.”

Asked what makes a good client, Droga said: “The most intimidating thing a client can do is trust you because it takes away every alibi.”

Droga, believed to have won more Cannes Lions in his career than any other person, also alluded to having not always been primarily motivated by delivering results for clients.

Although he did not directly state that his motivation was winning awards, he admitted: “In my early years as a creative moving up the chain, I was a very selfish creative, I just cared about the creativity for the sake of it.

“I just thought that would solve everything and I didn’t really think about the ramifications of it as much, and I feel that’s where the strategy of things in our industry is key.”

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Droga, who is his company’s Creative Chairman, also revealed that he first gave himself the title as a joke, although other creatives around the world have taken it seriously and adopted it.

He said “Chairman sounded so boring. I did it as a bit of a joke, and now there are creative chairman across the industry.”

During the Advertising Week session, Droga said that one reason for the success of his agency was that he was fortunate to launch it just as video became easily shareable.

He said: “It wasn’t genius, it was good timing with an onus on storytelling.”

Early in the agency’s history, Droga5 created one of the first viral videos of all time, with a stunt for client Ecko Unltd in which a graffiti artist appeared to tag Airforce One.

However, Droga told Mumbrella that the field was still open for a new independent agency to break through today if  it has a point of difference. He said: “There’s always room for great. There’s always room to build something that has a different point of view. The agencies that I grew up admiring sadly are mostly not around any more.

“With the right people and right intentions and don;t get distracted and bring in great partners, then absolutely, there’s always room.”

He also said that brands would increasingly work with new types of partners. He said: “Brands don’t care, there’s no loyalty to an agency, or loyalty to a media company –  if they’re better served and get connection to their audience somewhere else, it’s all up for grabs.”

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