“Even bad pizza is kind of good”: Five life lessons from David Droga

18 April 2019

David Droga knows a thing or two about one of the world’s more complex industries. A former Executive Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi in London, the Australian advertising superstar has been based in New York for just shy of two decades now, and back in 2006 he launched his own agency, Droga5.

Since then, Droga5 has gone on to produce outstanding work for a varied list of internationally renowned clients, with everyone from Under Armour to Coal Drops Yard finding themselves in the ever-reliable hands of David and his global team of collaboratively minded creatives. This long-term success led to the agency being taken over earlier this year by Accenture Interactive.

The final speaker at this year’s Design Indaba conference, David delivered what was, in essence, a 40-minute long paean to the power that advertising can have when it comes to shaping how we understand the world and our place in it. Whether it’s jousting knights competing for a can of American beer for Bud Light, or an insider’s account of life under ISIS for The New York Times, Droga5 makes work with meaning, motivated by a process of constant interrogation, of themselves, of the client, of what advertising is fundamentally all about.

“People don’t like advertising,” he says, with a hint of a rather wry smile creeping ever so slowly across his lips, “until their cat goes missing.”

David also seems to understand how to live a contented creative life. With that in mind, we sat down with him on a sunny afternoon in Cape Town in the hope that he might pass on a few sermons from the mount. Happily – for us, and for you, dear reader – he obliged. What follows are five lessons that David has learned after 30 years at the top of his game.


David Droga (Via Wiki Commons)

Farms are relaxing; children aren’t

When people ask how I disengage and relax, I think it’s too lazy and easy to say: “Well, I just turn my phone off and go for a walk in the park.” I don’t mind pressure. That’s different from stress, but I don’t mind things being at stake. And I’m not obsessed with the industry. I don’t spend all my time socialising with advertising people or researching advertising. I sit on several boards and so I get involved with things that are culturally creative and different and that reminds me to put things in perspective, and I draw inspiration from it.

Day to day I live in the hustle and bustle of New York City but I’m lucky enough to own a farm upstate. At heart, I’m a country boy, so I spend more time chasing chickens and riding dirt bikes than doing anything. Also, I have four kids and the stress of having four kids outweighs the stress of the job!

There’s always time for pizza

If I’ve had a long day and feel like I deserve some comfort food, anything spicy will do it. Maybe it comes from my time in Asia, but I just love a good curry. That’d tide me over. I’m not a fancy food person, actually, so maybe it’d be roast chicken, with gravy, stuffing and peas – I’d knock someone over for that. The basic stuff. Give me a home-cooked dinner, a spicy curry, or a great pizza. Thinking about it, pizza is actually the greatest food of all. Even bad pizza is kind of good.

Your peers aren’t everything

I’m not necessarily interested in what my peers think, but what the real world thinks. I made a comment at Cannes last year, along the lines of, “You’re good if your peers think you’re great, but you’re great if the real world thinks you’re good.” That’s it. When no one has a vested interest in what you’re doing and it touches them in the right way, that is amazing. That’s what excites me.

Relevance equals happiness

Apart from being restless beyond belief, and competitive beyond belief, I’m not a revisionary person. Living off past glories annoys me. I want to know that what I’m doing is right now – not living off the good fortune of what’s come before this. I can respect the past, yes. But isn’t one of the missions of life to be relevant now? To be able to contribute to any conversation around you, to add something meaningful to interactions. That’s real wealth. I’d rather add value in a boardroom, a project, or a conversation than be sitting around exceptionally wealthy in a room looking at awards.

Bad advertising is like bad architecture

I’m a critic of the industry. But I love the industry, too. I don’t want to kick it to the kerb, per se; I want to kick the shitty advertisers there. It’s like architecture: most buildings are horrendously made and designed around efficiencies rather than practicality or beauty or relevance. But a beautiful building is unbelievable. And so is good advertising. I always feel bad for architects, actually. In our industry, you create something bad, it’s gone soon. Architects have to live with that for a hundred years.

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