As Executive Creative Directors at Droga5, Felix and Alexander were part of the team behind the powerful spot created for Under Armour that was awarded two Yellow Pencils at D&AD, 4 Gold Lions and the coveted Grand Prix in Film Craft at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.
Are you guys bored of winning “Agency of the Year” awards yet?
AN: Ha. I wouldn’t say that. We’ve certainly been very lucky these past two years, but it took a lot of hard work, too. We make a specific type of work, and we are equal parts surprised, honored and happy to find it recognized by our peers.FR: The agency overall had some big hits each year but also lots of smaller wins on a variety of clients, which is great.
But you are recognised by your peers as being one of, if not the best, Ad agencies on the planet. What’s the secret sauce?
FR: Don’t think there’s one secret ingredient, but many things that work well here. There are very talented and motivated people across all departments, not just creative. David is a great leader, and is inspiring to work for. Last but not least, we’re lucky to have clients that are up for taking risks and making unexpected work.
AN: I think it’s good that Droga5 has no house style or tone. There’s great comical work for Newcastle, but then there’s also heartwarming stuff or Honey Maid and edgy or cinematic work for Hennessy and Under Armour. The fact that any type of creative talent can bring their voice to the table and make great work is what makes this agency so successful.
What was the first Droga5 campaign that made you think, ”This is where I want to work?
FR: There were a lot of great campaigns from Droga5 right from the start, but if we had to pick one, it would be PUMA “Hardchorus.” At the time, the industry was celebrating a lot of “for-the-first-time-ever” work using a new technology or some kind of format trickery. This stuff felt cold to us, and when we tried it ourselves it wasn’t really all that satisfying to make. “Hardchorus,” on the other hand, just felt like a magical piece of pop-culture poetry and was original to the bone. There was no apparent recipe, and it was very powerful. That fascinated us.
You’ve been growing incredibly fast, certainly for the last five years—what’s that scaling been like? How have you managed to, and sorry to use the phrase, keep your edge?
AN: We’ve indeed been lucky to have had great opportunities and the privilege to work closely with and learn from David and Ted and lots of other amazing people at Droga5.
FR: The last three years were incredible, but before that we actually had dry spells. For the first two years at Droga5, almost everything we tried didn’t work out for one reason or another. That happens to everyone though, and looking back, we learned the trick is to just hang in there.
AN: In terms of edge, I think we’re not afraid to make things that don’t always make complete sense.
FR: We believe that essentially there are two types of language, both of which are necessary to create interesting communications, but one of which is grossly neglected in advertising, because it’s hard to get across on paper and in boardrooms. We’re trying to make use of both types and inspire our teams to do the same.
AN: A bit of explanation: Goethe once said that in daily life, we make use of language in a provisional way, because we only signify superficial relations. As soon as we speak of deeper relations, another language suddenly appears: the poetical.
FR: Even though ads are certainly very trivial things and definitely need to communicate superficial messages quickly, if brands want to “signify deeper relations” to perhaps form deeper connections with their audiences, a bit of poetry is necessary. But poetry—and herein lies the problem—is created and received in a different way. It happens outside the walls of logic and ordinary language, and that’s not great for boardroom environments where most parties are mostly concerned with saying things that sound very clever, making ads make sense, and having people “understand” them.
There was that massive merger with William Morris Endeavour – at the time it seemed completely left field but there was a lot of speculation about what it might result in. Looking back over the last few years, what’s been the impact of that?
AN: Yes, WME | IMG (WME acquired IMG) has a minority stake in Droga5. Partnering with WME | IMG has created this opportunity for us to be at the forefront of culture. WME | IMG represent major content creators, as well as some of the biggest entertainment platforms in the world. And as a result of our relationship, we have the ability to create work with our clients in unique ways that truly influence and affect culture – rather than just reacting to it.
One of the things that has appeared in press is that you perceive yourselves as a ‘challenger brand’. David Droga has said “Having bravado and living up to that is difficult”. What does that mean day to day in work – do you consciously keep focus on that? How do you install that ethos in a company?
FR: The challenger brand mentality is true. The people at Droga5 are incredibly ambitious. If you meet anyone here, you’ll find they never settle. They’re always wanting to create something bigger than the chapter before. Just because something won an award doesn’t mean you rest on your laurels. And even though we’ve grown and proven ourselves in awards and in client wins, we never lose sight of what got us there. Beyond being ambitious, there is a generosity about the people at this agency. We genuinely care about the work we’re doing and the client and agency’s business objectives. As David Droga once said, “caring is out of scope, but we do it anyway.”
Let’s talk about Under Armour—that relationship is going pretty well, right?
AN: It is a good relationship. There is mutual respect and a general understanding, probably because there are similar philosophies and ambitions in both companies. What we love about Under Armour as a client is that they’re willing to make bold moves and take risks. They don’t want to make work that just works and checks off boxes. They want to do something incredible every time. And although they’re, of course, very, very smart and strategic in the way they approach things, and they still allow themselves to feel things here and there instead of rationalizing work into mediocrity.
Can you talk about where you start with a campaign for Under Armour—is it focusing on who the sports personality is and then finding a “tone” for them? Or is it starting with concepts?
FR: There’s not one starting place, but perhaps the rule that we always try to follow is to search far and wide. Creativity is essentially connecting dots, and the farther apart and more unusual these dots, the more interesting the outcome can be.
FR: In the case of the first “Rule Yourself” campaign, it started with a 15th century quote by Pietro Aretino (who also happens to be known as the inventor of literate pornography): “I am, indeed, a king, for I know how to rule myself.”
AN: With Michael Phelps it was actually the creative team’s concept of “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light” that informed most decisions.
AN: The Gisele creative in the “I Will What I Want” campaign, on the other hand, was very much a direct build of a clever and nuanced insight in the brief: Women today have to deal with society’s contradictory expectations. There is no way for them to live up to everyone’s expectations.
What’s the work that you feel most personally proud of and why?
FR: Gisele for Under Armour. The online experience, Will Beats Noise, was part of the “I Will What I Want” campaign that featured Gisele Bündchen. Mainly because, below the simple surface level narrative of Will Beats Noise, it was a very considered comment on social media—the working title was actually “social commentary.” So while Gisele was working out and comments were coming in live and got projected on the walls around her, we made sure to sort them so there were always positive and negative sentiments displayed at the same time to show the contradictory nature of the world’s sentiment toward Gisele, who, at this point, really was just a stand-in for women in general. It inspired a lot of people and sparked discussion. It felt like a good thing to bring into the world.
AN: Hennessy, “The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down.” This film best embodies our approach to making communications. It’s this almost too simple story of a guy that drives very fast in a car over and over. It’s executed by Martin de Thurah, with lots of nuance and psychological detail, and becomes a deeper film, especially with the Viktor Frankl voiceover. At the risk of being ridiculed—since this is still an ad for cognac—there’s perhaps a little poetry there. Not all is exactly clear. But it can be felt that there’s some stuff going on. “The Piccards” was modeled in that way too.
Still in love with advertising?
AN: There is definitely a place within advertising where we can be very happy. Where we are right now is very good. And there is still a lot to learn and stuff to make.