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Cannes Lions 2018: David Droga on reclaiming his freedom and getting over “really shitty advertising”

CANNES – Australia’s most celebrated advertising export and founder of Droga5, David Droga, presented the opening keynote of the 2018 Cannes Lions about 12 months since receiving the festival’s most-coveted Lion of St. Mark last year.

His monologue started by ticking off the points of his biography — he has four brothers, he grew up in Australia — before dispensing life lessons that may resonate most listeners. “Good intentions, talent and ethics will plow through anything,” he says. “If you put your chips into something you believe, you have to roll the dice sometimes.”

Before his Droga5 days, Droga was named the first worldwide CCO for the Publicis Network in New York back in 2003. Prior to that, he experienced a relatively quick ascent at Saatchi & Saatchi, joining the agency in Singapore in 1996 as its executive creative director and regional creative director of Saatchi Asia only to become executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi London at the age of 29.


Droga shared how he managed to get a job at FCB as a junior writer but then let go of it to join a start-up in Australia. “There were no clients, no furniture [at the start-up]. But they gave me the ultimate offer. I have always believed in the power of what we do and the power of creativity,” he said. “You do have to roll the dice sometimes,” the adman contended.

He then spoke about how others there wanted to merge the agency he was at with another company. “They wanted me to sign a contract, stating that I would stay there for three years. But then again, it is one of those moments where you ask: Do you choose comfort, stability and financial gain?” he shared. Droga ultimately gave up his stake in the agency and decided to move away. “I left the agency with my favorite Persian rug and my freedom,” Droga continued.

The adman also recollected how he stepped down as the Worldwide CCO of Publicis and how this decision led to his eponymous agency Droga5. He recalled the story that as a kid his mom would sew ‘Droga5’ tags into some of his clothes for proper sorting because he had four brothers.

In just over ten years, Droga5 has seen unprecedented success and become one of the most revered and influential agencies on the planet, including back-to-back accolades as Cannes Lions Independent Agency of the Year in 2015 and 2016.

More than anything, though, Droga wanted the thousands attending Cannes this summer to have faith, as he does, in the simple strength of a creative idea. Perhaps coincidentally, this is a key selling point for both the festival itself and the embattled industry it celebrates.

“As a creative person, you can’t bullshit yourself that you’re happy… no matter the perks,” Droga said. “If you’re not having an impact on the work, it’s not worth it. You are paid twice a month but have to go to work every day.”

Droga also emphasized the importance of making the right decisions, as an agency, to foster real growth for the clients. “At times, our industry represents ideas that benefit ourselves more than our clients. The ideas should help the client business and have long-term benefits for them,” the adman opined.

He also warned against the perils of “really shitty advertising”. As Droga arrived in Cannes this weekend, he said he was reminded by a large, ugly billboard of why people hate advertising: “It serves no purpose, it’s selfish and interrupting.” Advertising isn’t going away, but the “shitty” kind is, he said.

Droga wound up his keynote with a reminder to the advertising industry of what it can do: “Our job is to move people and do extraordinary things.”

Watch his full talk here:

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