David Droga has changed advertising. Now he wants to kill him.
It all started with a bang. Or, more accurately, a beacon. In April 2006, a video was posted anonymously on about 20 websites. It was apparently a couple of graffiti artists jumping a fence on Andrews Air Force Base to tag Air Force One, and it immediately burst into flames. It began circulating online, in forums and via email, garnering over 23 million views in 24 hours. This was before Twitter, before Instagram, and Facebook wasn’t even open to the general public. YouTube was barely a year old. Such attention, so quickly, was a monumental feat. Then came the national and international news reports, and the fact that the Pentagon was forced to deny that it ever happened.
When ad agency Droga5 created Marc Ecko’s “Still Free,” it set a precedent for the next decade and more for how brands could try to tap into culture and create it. Not by paying millions for a Super Bowl commercial, but by using creative entertainment to manipulate and take advantage of the media ecosystem. Do you know how much Ecko and Droga5 spent on TV advertising? Zero.
It was the first major work of the eponymous agency of David Droga, founded the same year. Droga had risen through the ranks of the advertising industry before laying down his own shingle, but the work he would direct and oversee from his own agency would, in many ways, set the standard for creative quality and impact of advertising work for the years to come, as its multiple Agency of the Decade the distinctions will attest. Today, as CEO of Accenture Interactive, the consulting giant that acquired his agency in 2019, Droga is once again aiming to chart a new course, to shed the constraints inherent in the traditional role of an ad agency. and to set a new standard for how creative thinking can transform businesses, far beyond anything resembling advertising.
On Wednesday, Accenture Interactive announced that it is renaming Accenture Song and, in doing so, consolidating more than 40 marketing, communications and consulting companies under one name and P&L. It’s a move designed to streamline the company’s outward branding to current and potential customers, but also the workflow within the company, to reduce the competition inherent in separate entities all trying to eat the same cake.
Rebranding of advertising agencies is not new, nor is the consolidation of acquired assets. Each ad portfolio company followed its own version of this process. Over the past two years, WPP combined J. Walter Thompson and Wunderman to create Wunderman Thompson, while Y&R and VML merged into VMLY&R, and Gray and AKQA also became one company called AKQA Group. WPP CEO Mark Read told me last year that it was all an effort to simplify what had become a complex network of corporate brands. “Our organization was getting in the way of giving customers insights that could reach all channels,” Read said.
“It’s more than just a costume change,” says Droga, who was named CEO of Accenture Interactive (now Song) in 2021. “Now we can really be honest, when we go to a client, that we’re bringing these unified solutions. We’re now more in sync with each other, working together on solutions, even P&L, so there’s no competing forces getting in the way. I think that’s the only way to intervene and respond to customer needs.
It is in this last piece that Droga’s intentions and ambitions reside. For him, it’s no longer just about trying to come up with the best advertising idea for customers, whether it comes from Droga5, or the creative shops formerly known as Rothco in Ireland, or Fjord in Scandinavia. Instead, it’s about ensuring that Accenture Song can effectively combine its strengths with those of the rest of Accenture’s capabilities.
Over the past few years, Accenture has built a tremendous creative advertising business. Adage reports that Accenture Interactive’s U.S. revenue in 2021 increased 27% to $5.9 billion, double the U.S. growth rate for all agencies in the report. Meanwhile, its global revenue in 2021 grew 17% to $12.5 billion, making it the world’s fourth-largest agency company behind WPP, Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe.
After a few years of leading marketers spreading their advertising and marketing bets across a wide slate of agency partners, some industry watchers are seeing a backlash, at least among the biggest brands. According to Jay Pattisall, analyst at Forrester, seven major agency valuations in 2021 (including Coca-Cola, Facebook, Mercedes, Philips and Walmart) – worth more than $7 billion – have been outsourced to integrated, centralized global marketing teams. “End-to-end marketing services tailored to marketing solutions are now fundamental for global marketers to navigate a volatile, pandemic-weary marketplace,” Pattisall wrote. Droga says he doesn’t see traditional advertising companies as competition, but they absolutely are. I think he says that because his vision of where he wants Song to go is not reflected in this competition.
“Every customer now faces different headwinds, from what customers want, to their expectations, to understanding and navigating the metaverse, to the responsibilities that come with sustainability,” Droga tells me. “This is one conversation that we are sure to have, because we have the expertise. That doesn’t stop us from doing some really creative, impactful, amazing stuff in content and design, which is still part of who we are. It does not begin and end there.
When I ask him what he means by that, Droga points to a digital redesign assignment for Japanese bank Minna that ended up transforming it into that country’s first digital-only banking platform. Or Signet, the world’s largest diamond jewelry retailer (under brands like Kay Jewelers and Zales), which had to temporarily close more than 3,000 stores at the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns. In response, Accenture Interactive (now Song) helped the brand create an e-commerce platform that included virtual sales support, order tracking and flexible payment options. As a result, Signet saw its sales increase 30% in fiscal year 2022 compared to 2020, including an 85% increase in online sales. “Instead of trying to solve this problem with advertising or marketing, we built digital platforms to reinvent their e-commerce business,” says Droga. “If you tell us what the problem is, we have so many tools to solve it.”
Connecting high-level creative work with consulting and business transformation has been a rainbow that many have reached over the past decade. Consulting firms such as Accenture and Deloitte have taken more interest in advertising, advertising agency R/GA has launched a consulting practice, and startups like Proto and Wolfgang LA are continuing it all from a fresh slate. Even the private equity giant Blackstone signed former Droga5 chief strategy officer Jonny Bauer last year use creative strategy to help its 250 portfolio companies, including Oatly, Spanx and Bumble. What makes Accenture Song such an intriguing case, however, is the scale of the web it is able to work with, thanks to its parent company partners and the CEO who steers the ship. No comparable sized holding company or competitor is run with this level of creative business pedigree.
“The issues that customers face, there’s nothing I can do in my previous experience that would fix that issue now,” says Droga. “I try to take creativity, which is about ambition and understanding, and spread it to more places.”