Super Bowl: Can a Wild Bear and a Shocking Message Win This Ad Agency Greater Fame?

Droga5 is on a tear in the ad business, but will its first Super Bowl effort extend its streak?

Super Bowl bear

When a huge brown bear ambles across TV screens this Sunday to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You,” it may be taking a big step for an ad agency as well.

Droga5 isn’t as entrenched a resident of Madison Avenue as better known ad firms such as Leo Burnett or BBDO, but the medium-sized agency has a lot at stake this Sunday when its first Super Bowl ad runs in the game. Droga5 has created a minute-long spot for Chobani Greek yogurt that is, in many ways, as bold as anything issued by Super Bowl ad vets like Pepsi or General Motors.

The sight of a bear knocking over shelves of groceries in the narrow confines of Howard’s Country Store isn’t what will shock Super Bowl audiences. It’s the message the bruin aims to convey: Why scarf down chips and beer when there’s something more nutritious available? “This is still a fancy dress party and people are going to try to come in with the most outrageous stuff,” said David Droga, creative chairman of the agency, of the Super Bowl ad parade. “We have a lot more going on than that.”

Every Super Bowl has its share of first-timers, whether they be sponsors who have never run an ad in the game before or an agency that has never created one of the much-scrutinized spots. For Droga5, however, crafting an ad that takes off and becomes a cultural touchstone in the way only some Super Bowl ads can do – think Apple’s famous “1984” spot or, more recently, Chrysler’s 2012 “It’s Halftime in America” effort featuring Clint Eastwood – could transforme it from an industry darling to something bigger.

While he takes pains to note his agency is involved in multiple projects, Droga acknowledged that “a successful Super Bowl ad in the minds of certain clients is a notch on the belt. It’s certainly a good thing.”

When Chobani, based in New Berlin, N.Y., began in mid-2013 to seek a new agency – the second time it has done so in recent months – a Super Bowl ad wasn’t necessarily part of the plan, said Peter McGuinness, the company’s chief marketing and brand officer. The yogurt maker had narrowed its field of candidates to Droga5 and The Martin Agency, an Interpublic Group-owned firm that has made a name doing smart work for marketers ranging from Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico to Mondelez International’s Oreo cookies. But Chobani felt Droga5 would make the better fir, said McGuinness.

The idea that lured him over? An effort to focus attention on how the company’s yogurt is made, and on the ingredients used. The Droga tagline for Chobani. “How matters,” would get consumers to link Chobani to authenticity, he said. And the Super Bowl seemed like a good place to get people talking about the idea.

“The ‘how’ can be pretty ugly. You don’t want to know how hot dogs are made, and you don’t want to know how our competitors’ brands are made. We want to celebrate the ‘how,’” said McGuinness. As consumers express more interest in knowing just what goes into the things they eat, “we’re going to open up a conversation about how food is made here,” he added.

Chobani and Droga5 face a heady challenge going into the game. Though the company sees room for growth – Greek yogurt makes up about 49% of the $7 billion U.S. yogurt market, according to data from Nielsen – a deep-pocketed rival will be present on Super Bowl Sunday. Dannon’s Oikos yogurt will take the field with an ad featuring a more conventional bent: a reunion of actors Bob Saget, Dave Coulier and John Stamos from the ABC sitcom “Full House.”

Devising clever ads that use ideas rather than celebrities or the usual gimmicks has become Droga5’s stock in trade. In Madison Avenue circles, some liken the agency to Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an agency that rocketed to attention last decade by creating ads that used old media formats in new ways: print ads that just used the corner of a magazine page, or an ad that asked an earlier generation of web users to type in commands to a Burger King sponsored chicken. For its part, Droga5 has developed a knack for linking its clients to a particular purpose that resonates with consumers.

“They find a way to impart a higher order or mission to clients,” said Ann Billock, co-founder of Ark Advisors, a consultant that helps advertisers select ad agencies that was involved in Chobani’s search for a new agency. “They are going to try to find some kind of bigger way to express a brand, and at the same time they are comfortable in just about every form of media.”

Work from the agency, which is 49% controlled by William Morris Endeavor, in the past two years has stirred emotions. After winning ad business from Prudential Financial in 2010, Droga5 solicited stories about consumers facing their first day of retirement and in 2011 unleashed a campaign of online videos and ads about different takes on the topic – a decidedly different take on financial-services advertising. In 2010, the agency crafted a single effort to draw attention to a memoir by rapper Jay-Z and burnish Microsoft’s Bing search engine, two very disparate goals.

Droga5’s leader has himself enjoyed a quick rise in the advertising business. In his 20’s, he enjoyed a quick rise working through ad agencies in Australia and Singapore. By 29, he was executive creative director of the London office of the global agency Saatchi & Saatchi. In 2003, he headed to New York to work as the worldwide chief creative for Publicis Worldwide. Three years later, however, he developed an entrepreneurial streak and started the agency that bears his name.

Droga5 may not be for everyone. Some advertisers, still wedded to the tradition of relying heavily on TV ads and other forms of older media, may not embrace its techniques immediately. “Sometimes, the more timid clients need the reassurance of mass,” said Droga. “The clients that have bolder mandates” are willing to back something new.

If Chobani’s bear claws its way into Super Bowl viewers’ hearts, it could bring new light to Droga5 and its methods, Droga said: “It certainly doesn’t hurt to have work that is known by the everyday person on the street.”