David Droga Still Has Faith in Advertising, Even If You Don’t

He opens Cannes Lions by bidding farewell to bad ads

Droga scored the very first speaking slot at this year's festivities. Cannes Lions
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

CANNES, France—”Advertising’s not going away. Really shitty advertising is going away, and I bid that farewell,” said David Droga in opening a “smaller” but “more condensed” Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity for 2018.

After delivering an emotionally-fueled speech to accept the Lion of St. Mark award last year, the Droga5 founder and chairman took a notably more subdued tone this time. He started with lightly sarcastic commentary on topics as far afield as Martin Sorrell (“now an underdog, whoever knew”), Publicis (“they boycotted the festival, but there are more Publicis people here and all their stuff is entered anyway”) and his own facial hair (“nothing says wisdom like a scruffy grey beard”). Through it all, he made a point of sounding cautiously optimistic despite the ad industry’s widely reported anxieties.

At times, Droga’s monologue felt more like a jump cut-filled trek through his own career, from working in the mailroom at Grey Sydney to scoring all of his industry’s top honors. Inevitably, he touched on many of the same themes explored in a Q&A with Adweek ahead of Cannes in 2017: taking risks, staying true to oneself and avoiding the dangers of arrogance.

The last subject was particularly relevant after 12 months in which Droga5, like so many other agencies, was forced to look at itself more critically than in the past.

“This year for the first time, our culture has been challenged,” he said, noting that he’d “assumed” that culture was “bulletproof.” He also returned to a familiar belief that, in a perfect world, “great work covers all cracks,” while acknowledging that this isn’t quite the case.

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.

Along his circuitous route to the present day, Droga recounted tales of youthful abandon like the time when, as a newly successful and “overly cocky” creative staying in a hotel on the client’s dime, he ordered every item on the menu (“five trolleys worth”) and proceeded to pour the entirety of the minibar into the bathtub. “I should have been fired for that,” he admitted. “But it was the enthusiasm for the job: I can’t believe we’re able to do this.”

The elder statesman sounded somewhat conflicted as he both extolled the value of good work and bemoaned the industry’s inability to reward that work properly. He also warned against the perils of “really shitty advertising,” characterizing an unnamed Cannes sponsor’s banner currently displayed on the Carlton Hotel as “selfish” and saying, “it serves no purpose.”

“The ideas of creativity translate across borders, geography,” Droga noted before asking, “Why can’t creative people get rewarded for what they do for agencies?”

That question sat hanging in the air while another went unasked: Is good work good enough? The answer for Droga, so far, has been yes.

In closing, the most-awarded man in advertising aired a four-minute spot promoting Christie’s auction of “The Last Da Vinci,” a painting by the Renaissance master that ultimately sold for $450 million in 2017. It was, by his own admission, a long and somewhat self-indulgent piece. Judging by the applause that followed, his audience didn’t seem to mind.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.