"Don’t come to Drum for the conventional." Monty Verdi, the new executive creative director whose appointment, from CHI & Partners, is one sign of a landmark shift at the content agency, is unequivocal.
There’s no point in beating out the same tune at the same frequency as everyone else when the industry is being disrupted like never before. "It’s the Wild West out there," he says. "No one is staying in lane."
Now brands are not coming to Drum if they want "conventional"; they come with briefs for innovation and radical use of media, Verdi argues, primed by the agency’s position at the intersection of creativity, media and tech at the heart of parent Omnicom Media Group UK. But it wasn’t always the case. Back in July 2016, Drum decided to focus its efforts on getting back to the roots of what made it distinct by being a little louder and more provocative.
It was time, managing director Luke Southern realised, to press the reset button. Central to Drum’s new riff would be culture.
Culture is what consumers are interested in – and it’s what "Drummers" are immersed in and bring to their work every day. This was the previously unrecognised insight which has now become the beating heart of Drum’s offering.
The agency’s hiring policy had always brought in and attracted cultural mavens who were interesting because of what they did outside work, as much as within it – and now this is the core tenet of Drum’s output as a "creator of culture for brands".
Consumers aren’t interested in brand content for its own sake, Southern says, but are interested in popular culture, whether it’s sport, film, music, food, gaming or TV.
This is what people want to spend time with and share, and it is only by understanding what moves people that brands can create cultural signals to cut through the noise. "Rather than being something that consumers tune into, a lot of content has become the moment to check out and put the kettle on," he says.
The shift from content-creators to culture-creators has required some internal re-engineering. Drum’s streamlined offering now focuses on five areas: original formats, social content, media partnerships, talent partnerships, and strategy.
The agency’s creative credentials have been bolstered by Verdi, renowned for the multiple award-winning Lexus Hoverboard campaign, who oversees a department working across all channels. Brand culture might be an event, a film, or even an ad.
Working closely with media agencies, insight and data are at the core of Drum’s approach. With its mission to help brands develop their own cultural signals, Drum has created a Cultural Intelligence Programme to ensure brands are on top of upcoming trends. Now, nine cross-departmental teams harness Drum staff’s obsessions, knowledge and talents in areas such as gaming, fashion, music, science and tech, and sport.
These teams complement an analytical approach that has led the agency to adopt emotional analytics software to research how people respond to creative. Facial recognition technology helps it drill down into the cultural moments that really connect, and then refine messages for greater emotional resonance.
Drum is making greater use of the powerful market edge its position within Omnicom Media Group UK and proximity to media owners, rights-holders and tech companies bring, according to deputy managing director Andy Spray. As well as buying scale, he says the group’s access and connections provide editorial, creative and innovative streams that give value above and beyond commercial negotiations.
Since Project Reset, Drum is having its best year yet, creatively, and winning industry recognition for its new approach, Southern claims. It was one of the five most awarded UK agencies within the media and entertainment Lions categories at Cannes this year, winning a Gold, Silver and Bronze for Age UK and Warner Bros’ Lego Batman Movie launch tie-up with Channel 4. Proof, it would suggest, that marching to the beat of culture is paying off.
Two emotional films cut through the seasonal clutter, with actors James Bolam and Miriam Margolyes voicing real stories of the loneliness of the elderly at Christmas. Age UK received 12 times more enquiries than average asking how callers could help.
Drum has worked to identify what engages younger consumers to help them click with McDonald’s. A range of contextually and culturally relevant social content has changed perceptions, using memes, Facebook Live, and a recent optical illusion that was one of the brand’s most successful social placements yet.
Drum created topical idents that took over continuity announcements on Channel 4 in which Lego Batman exchanged witty banter with the announcer, driving cinema traffic for The Lego Batman Movie to open in the number one spot at the UK box office.