CANNES, France—In the summer of 2016, we met up with David Kolbusz at Clio Awards judging in Bali, just as he was beginning his run as chief creative officer of Droga5 London.
At the time, Droga New York was celebrating its 10th anniversary. Meanwhile, as Kolbusz put it, London was asking itself, "What is our first iteration going to be?"
Three years later, the office's transformation from fledgling upstart to entertaining and often surprising creative force is complete. Work for brands like Amazon, Barclaycard, Ancestry and Uniqlo is artful and often eccentric, in many ways reflecting Kolbusz's own sensibilities. And the agency has exciting projects on the horizon, including the launch of Mini Electric's first vehicle in 2020.
Muse caught up with Kolbusz in Cannes to ask about the agency's trajectory, its recent advertising hits, and what effect the Accenture acquisition will have on the work.
Your Amazon work lately has been entertaining.
It's been fairly pleasurable to work on, and our engagement with the clients has been great. This is not me pandering to try and get more business. We're working with them on a lot of things, and they're legitimately great, smart people with really good taste. Every project we work on with them is fun and interesting. We did some work with them for clothing and home furnishing. That team is great, and it's a different team. But the "Great Shows Stay With You" campaign—it broke last year, and we released the next round of work about a month ago, also shot by Steve Rogers. We're really proud of that stuff, and it evolved the campaign.
How did it evolve?
The first campaign was about the immersive viewing experience. You see someone sequentially getting into a show and changing as a result of the show. The new campaign shows the end result—this moment where a protagonist finds themselves in a situation where they can play the hero, or in some cases the villain—as a consequence of the shows they've watched. You jump back in time to when they were watching it and how they were inspired by the Amazon programming. It doesn't mean the old campaign is dead. We're still making executions—we just made two more of those. But it's another iteration of the campaign. So that's been really fruitful and interesting.
Work we've been doing on Barclaycard has been fun. Barclaycard business work has been particularly good out of the gate. We're taking these snapshots of small to medium business customers in the U.K. and highlighting the weirder businesses that use Barclaycard business solutions. The "Crystal Barn" one was kind of the opening salvo, and everyone really liked that one. We've done the "Upside-Down House," and we have another one coming that is slightly a different way in.
We've also got some work from Mini breaking soon, and our first work for Kahlua.
Do you feel like Droga5 London has sort of reached a new level?
Yeah. It's good. It feels nice. I'm proud of all work we do and all the clients we work for. But doing great work on small clients attracts medium-sized clients. And then you do great work on medium-sized clients and it attracts larger clients. Then you do great work on larger clients and that feels good. Not forsaking small and medium-sized—we still like to work with every size of business. We're more interested in people than we are in brands, because brands are comprised of people. And they're the ones that buy the great work.
You've been there three years now. Is this the trajectory you were expecting?
No. Because I'd never done it before, so you're never expecting anything, are you? You brace yourself, and you try to change a thing when you go in. The place wasn't doing great at the beginning. So you come in with a mission to change things, and then you hope it works. And you don't necessarily have a plan if it's not something you've done before. You just throw a few darts and hope some of them stick. And you do that just by doing the thing you know how to do, which is focus on the work and focus on taste and creativity and talent. And just pray that that's enough to get you through.
Have you been able to recruit some good people? What's your department look like?
I guess that's one of the unique differentiators of our agency. My title is chief creative officer, which is, well, a bullshit, fabricated title for people who needed to advance their careers and find new ways of justifying their large salaries. And I'm guilty of taking that title. But I've tried to imbue it with its own sort of meaning, which is looking over the creative health of the agency. That's not department-specific. You asked what the department looks like—it's not about the creative department. It's about ensuring that the entire agency is focused on the right thing, which is superior creativity. We need to deliver good business results for clients, but I do believe great creativity leads to great business results.
Kindness is also very important. It's not like we're going to hire pieces of shit who happen to be good creatives. But looking over the creative health of the agency—we bring in account people, producers, strategists. Everyone who comes into the agency, we try to make sure they have taste. They understand and appreciate what great creativity is, so everyone is on the same mission, heading toward the same goal, in the same direction. It makes life easier.
But yeah, we've got tons of great people. It's wonderful. It's not like when you're young and you're going to school and Sunday night is just horrible, and you get the Sunday night blues, and you're like, "Oh, I've got to go to school"? That kind of continues when you go to work, and you're like, "Oh, God." But I feel very blessed that I get to go to the office and work with the people I do, because they're great people.
The Accenture acquisition of Droga5. What does that change, if anything, for you?
Well, hopefully it's a force for good. Nothing's changed as of yet. It's still early days, right? But it's such a powerful force. Hopefully it just rocket boosts us. I think the creativity's not going to change. It's just going to enable us to offer more business solutions for clients who need it.
I could see some creative people not wanting to work for an Accenture.
We haven't experienced that at all. We still have people banging down our door trying to get in. Maybe it's self-selecting, but I think the types of creative people we want to work with understand it's a good thing. And the moody, smoking outside the back of the school, saying "Fuck the establishment," flicking their cigarettes, grabbing their skateboards, those aren't necessarily the types of people—I'm more interested in people who are optimistic and can see the potential in what this thing can do. How it can free us up to do better work on a bigger scale.
Clients are really happy about it. The great creative people I talk to are excited by it. It just kind of seems like the naysayers are perhaps the people who lack the vision to understand what it could mean. I say this now. It could all go to shit and I'll be eating crow in a year's time. But I don't think that's going to happen. They're lovely people, and smart. Droga's quite intelligent as well. He's been known to do a couple of good things. I don't think this was done in haste.
How do you guys currently relate to New York? Is it important to be very much your own thing?
I think autonomy is good because every office is going to do its own thing, and it's going to be comprised of different individuals making work that is unique to that market. But we're moving toward a common goal, and we celebrate each other's successes and help each other out when we can.
What are you excited about in terms of other people's work? Anything you've seen that you think points the way forward?
I'm not focused on what's next, or what the future is. I don't think that's the right way to approach creative work. If you're chasing what's next, then you're not focused on the present. You kind of have to live in the present. You have to focus on what you're doing, and try to be as interesting and dynamic and innovative as possible, but for the right reasons—because you want to make great work.
If we're giving shout-outs to other bits of work, I feel very smug about being an early adopter in my fandom of "Billie Jean King Your Shoes," the Adidas work that Chiat New York has been doing. I love that campaign with every fiber of my being. The posters are gorgeous. The activation is gorgeous. Everything about it is gorgeous. It's just wonderful to see it get some hardware. Not that that's necessarily the most important thing. The fact it was made is celebration of creativity enough. But it's nice to see other people recognize it. I'm always rooting for those things that aren't necessarily status-quo crowd favorites. It's a weird campaign, and it's lovely. And it was my favorite thing from last year.