What does it take to build a great brand? What does it take to build a great agency? That’s what I was asking myself as I left The Lumiere theatre after an absolutely inspiring session with David Droga & Kevin Plank of Under Armour.
The more I thought about what they said and the more I looked at some iconic brands and the way they have been built, a clear pattern emerged. Apple & Chiat/Day, Nike & W+K, UA & Droga 5, Steve Jobs and Lee Clow, Phil Knight & Dan Weiden, Kevin Plank & David Droga.
It was very clear that these people did three things really, really well.
1. A clearly defined Brand Purpose articulated into a really strong Point of View
2. A great Product that can justify and build on this purpose and
3. An agency-client Relationship built on respect, trust and chemistry starting at the top and going all the way down the hierarchy.
Droga & Kevin didn’t speak about the advertising they did together. Well, they did but it was more of a side note. For me, what stood out were the shared values, the belief in each other and their personal chemistry. You could tell there was tremendous mutual respect but there was more than that. There was a shared sense of a journey they want to be on together.
Their relationship started many years before Droga5 ever worked on the legendary Misty Copeland campaign. It started when UA was just a USD 1 Bn company and Droga5 was a 20 man scrappy outfit yet to achieve the iconic stature it has now. These guys kept in touch, kept talking and kept meeting.
Droga finally decided to give up a multi-million dollar relationship with Puma to work on a small project with UA. His CFO was livid but Droga was convinced that he wanted to handle UA because he wanted to work with Kevin. From the 2014 Misty Copeland campaign to last year’s multi-award winning campaign featuring Gisele Bundchen, it has been a meteoric rise for both the brands and both the men. As Droga asked, how many brands have a really strong point of view or purpose which reflects in its products, the behaviour of its people and it’s response to disaster?
That’s a great example of how conviction and a sense of purpose can build great brands.
How many marketers innately believe that their product is the best they can have at that point in time but also how they need to improve it for the future? As Plank put it, he is not concerned about what Nike or Reebok are going to do next. He is concerned about Apple or Amazon getting into the sports apparel business. Because he doesn’t see better materials as the threat, he sees technology as the threat.
As they spoke, one often finishing a thought the other man started, trust and transparency clearly emerged as the key pillars of a relationship. How trusting an agency is the hardest thing for a marketer to do and how earning it and sustaining it is the hardest thing for an agency to do. Trust survives bad campaigns and glitches as long as there is transparency.
Ending on a seemingly awkward note when Kevin Plank was asked about his reaction to the initial negative consumer response to their latest shoe launch in the US, Plank said, ‘Thank God! After 20 years in the business and 13 years of advertising, they finally care! About what we do, who we are and what it means to them. That is the one of the greatest things you can ever expect. That you are finally part of the consumer conversation’.
And the punch line at the end was when Plank said, ‘This consumer reaction clearly tells us that it is no longer a two horse race, it is now a three horse race and we are going to win it with the best goddamn jockey in the world, David Droga leading us!’
I just stood up, applauded and walked out feeling, ‘Wow! I want a piece of what they have!’
PS1: Droga5 was named after the fact that David Droga was the 5th of 7 children an his mother used to tag his clothes ‘Droga5’. Kevin Plank is also the 5th of 5 children. Coincidence or Karma?
(The writer is the Executive Vice President and Digital Head of iContract, the digital arm of Contract Advertising. All views are his and don’t represent those of his organization)