Droga launched his career by winning top student honors at the Australian Writers & Art Directors School. In 1996, he took up the position of ECD of Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore and later Regional CD of Saatchi Asia, before being promoted to Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi London at age 29. In 2003, Droga moved to New York City as the first ever Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of the Publicis Network, helping it to a business renaissance around the world. In 2006, Droga decided to start his own agency and launched Droga5, now wildly successful, headquartered in New York City with offices in London and Sydney. To date, Droga is the single-most awarded creative at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. Aside from countless other achievements, he is also the youngest person ever to be inducted into the New York Art Directors Club “Hall of Fame.”
Reese: David, thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of this. Let‘s dive right in: How important is music in building a brand?
Droga: I think it’s imperative. Music is one of the most influential parts of a brand – at times as influential as visuals and verbals. It resonates with people and makes a connection. But at the same time, it’s usually completely undervalued during the process. Too often it’s a secondary thing. But we’re trying to course-correct that.
Reese: But why do you think that’s the case why is it often just an afterthought? If we know that audio plays a huge part in the consumer’s buying decision, why are advertisers not spending money in a more ROI-based way?
Droga: People are conditioned to focus on the details of the narrative, the story, and the visuals. Then there are a few difficulties with music – one is that it’s so subjective. And a good track can cost you a million dollars plus, unless you score something for a couple of thousands. You also have to distinguish between great music, a great track or just audio stings at the end of an ad. But we know the impact audio has. Again, it’s something we’re desperately trying to course-correct. It’s such an anomaly in a sense that we all understand the power of it, professionally and personally, but for some reason it’s not as high on the totem pole as it should be, at the right time. It drives me crazy.
Reese: I agree. Anomaly is a good word for it. So you think video and audio should be treated with the same discipline?
Droga: 100% percent, definitely. It’s probably also easier to test than words on a page or visuals drawn up. Before you go into production, test the audio.
Reese: Some of the world‘s most successful brands have a very strong audio identity. Do you believe there’s a link between economic success and the audio behavior of a brand?
Droga: Well, it completely depends. When it’s done well, absolutely. But a strong audio is no substitute for having terrible visuals or terrible messaging. They all have to work together. If you look at Apple or Nike, they don’t necessarily have an audio sting, but they have a general appreciation of the power of good complementary audio. We’re in the business of emotion, and attention, and there are very few things in our lives that are as memorable as good audio. I feel like it should be looked at as a whole, and how it works together as the objective of it. If it’s an afterthought, then you’re playing catch-up the whole time.
Reese: People in our industry tend to struggle with decisions around audio, because it‘s such an emotional tool, and it can be very subjective and personal. Where do you see the biggest challenge in finding a brand’s voice?
Droga: Finding something that isn’t just trend-based. That happens a lot in marketing, and especially with brands that have the money for it. They just buy a track that they can get a kick out of. Just because you get a hit song for a car commercial doesn’t make the car more desirable, though. There needs to be some logic as to why: Is it in synch with the audience, or the brand message? There has to be a thought process into the audio as there is to the narrative, as opposed to just going, “Let’s pick something people like.” At the end of the day, you can spend a million dollars buying a track and remind people that they love that track and that they want to buy the track – but that won’t serve as an association to the product.
Reese: The music should fit to the brand, absolutely. It shouldn‘t distract from the message you‘re trying to communicate. So how do you end up with the right track, paired with the visuals, on air?
Droga: It has to complement the mood you’re trying to create and the emotion you’re trying to project. Levi’s is still a fantastic brand in that sense, particularly in the UK. They had these great little stories, really well shot, and they always had an amazing track with each story that was complementary to the mood they were trying to create around the brand. But then you see ads on TV of insurance companies or cars, and it’s so out of sync. People can get annoyed when a good track is compromised by being used in a pharmaceutical ad, for example. You have to be conscious of that.
Reese: Creatives often find it di cult to communicate what they’re looking for in music when they talk to composers, music companies, and so on – especially when they‘re not musicians themselves. Is there anything that has worked for you in the past?
Droga: You’re successful when you know what you’re looking for. I think if you have a broad sense of taste and you’re not just projecting your own personal taste of audio onto whichever brand you’re currently working on, then that’s good. And you have to beware of which reference tracks you’re using to create a mood. It’s a slippery slope and it happens a lot in our industry: Everyone falls in love with the reference track that you put on a piece of film, and then you can’t get it. The result is that you’re almost always set to be underwhelmed and disappointed, because whatever you put on it alternatively seems to be a compromised version of your demo. We’re trying to be a lot more thoughtful about what we put on, be it licensing or scoring. It has to be in sync with the brand. And it’s hopefully not going to date or turn people off. I feel like it’s a question of giving it the right amount of energy and time in the process much further upstream than it currently is. I think when it’s considered as much in the creation of it, then you have more options and can explore and experiment more.
Reese: I believe that if we get better at testing and at understanding big data, we’ll be able to isolate the return on investment of music. That will make it easier to get people to think about audio in a strategic way, too. At a point where we can really read numbers, I think we’ll wake up and realize that we need to spend our money much more ROI-based – and not 90% on visuals and 10% on audio.
Droga: I think we’re already moving in that direction. The more we help brands realize their return on investment when putting as much energy into the audio of a message as into the visuals, the better it will get. However, you don’t want to rely too much on research. Your creation can’t be too rounded, without any edge or distinction to it. You don’t want to end up all looking the same.
Reese: Final question. This is something I ask most of my interviewees, and it ‘s something everybody wants to know. You’ve been part of so many extremely successful recipes. How did it feel when you came up with a game-changing idea? How do you know it’s a good one?
Droga: I wish there was a formula, but there isn’t really. I don’t evaluate things on a surface level, just by asking, “Do I like that?” or “That’s cool, that’s funny.” I really think about the situation we’re trying to target. I think about “Why would anyone care about what we’re saying, producing, and doing?” Obviously, we’re trying to create something that’s incredibly influential and effective. You want to touch a nerve. You want to cause some sort of a reaction. But people are busy, they have lives. I’m paid to think about how we can earn their attention. And most often, that’s based on a gut feeling. When you do have a big idea, it’s very exciting, and you can’t put your finger on what it is. You just sort of feel like, wow, this could really spark something, it will touch an emotion. And you can’t help it, it will get you excited and you just know, yeah, that’s more than just a disposable, gimmicky thought.