For the past month, David Droga has been waking up to a daily email from a team of 20 creative people and producers outlining when and where pages from Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded, out this week from Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, would show up around major cities. Mr. Droga’s elaborate marketing campaign required 10 pages to be released per day. They have appeared on ceramic plates at the Spotted Pig in the West Village, on the felt surface of a pool table at the 40/40 club in Chelsea, on the silk lining of a Gucci jacket in a midtown store and on the backboard of a basketball hoop in Marcy Projects, near Jay-Z’s childhood home.
“It’s completely dictated by what he’s talking about on the page,” said Mr. Droga, the 42-year-old creative director of the Droga5 advertising agency. “If he’s talking about a Cadillac, it’s on a Cadillac, and if he’s talking about his favorite burgers, we put it on the burger wrappers.” The real-life scavenger hunt for pages is linked up with a virtual challenge that sees users uncover and unlock pages on a Web site operated by Bing.com, the Droga5 client that financed the campaign. “Usually these things build, but on Day 1, we had thousands of people playing on the site,” said Mr. Droga. One of the players, a Manhattan lawyer named Nadia, had located 306 of 306 released pages. Book wholesalers, he added, have increased their orders of the memoir based on the number of people playing.
Mr. Droga, an Australian with a handsome, rugged face and spiky hair, was sitting on a low couch in his corner office on Lafayette Street, dressed in jeans and a blue Oxford shirt. He asked if The Observer would be offended if he finished his toast smothered with Vegemite. “I should probably never talk about it while I’m eating it,” he said. “It’s basically yeast extract. It’s like road tar.”
Outside his office, well-dressed 20- and 30-somethings were busily moving around. The agency, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Puma and Activision, has grown rapidly since Mr. Droga, a former executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, London, co-founded it in 2006; in the past year, 45 staffers were added to an existing 70.
“Advertising is one of these industries where 90 percent of it is invisible pollution and 10 percent is really interesting and engaging,” said Mr. Droga. “We want to be, selfishly, in that 10 percent where people actually want to engage in our work.”
Last year, Droga5 became the first agency to win two Black Pencils from the Design and Art Direction Awards in England. One was for the agency’s work for the New York City Department of Education; the other was for “The Great Schlep,” a viral video sponsored by the Jewish Council for Education and Research featuring Sarah Silverman urging grandchildren to visit their grandparents in Florida to talk them out of voting for John McCain.
“We’re not afraid of the obvious,” said Mr. Droga. “These are simple ideas. So my starting point is not ‘I’m just going to go do something weird and wacky.’ There’s no gravity to that. With ‘The Great Schlep,’ it was ‘Let’s create a relationship between grandparents and the grandkids.’ Simple! And that gives you permission to do incredible creative. Jay-Z’s book is called Decoded, it’s all about decoding and every page is an amazing story set somewhere we know, so why not put it out there? If I was walking down Lafayette and there was something that happened on Lafayette that influenced his life or his music, I would be thrust into his book.”
Mr. Droga has never marketed a book before. He doesn’t understand how writers ever rely on book sales. “Sometimes I go into the bookstore and I actually think, ‘What chance do you have?’” he said. Last week, one of Mr. Droga’s employees, copywriter Tim Gordon, published a funny book: People Who Deserve It: Socially Responsible Reasons to Punch Someone in the Face (coauthored by Casey Rand). “I’m excited for him, so I bought 20 copies to give as gifts and help him out. But I think, ‘How is that book ever going to get a chance?’ If I was the next great writer, I’m not guaranteed anything.”
Mr. Droga had finished his toast and was now seated at his desk. He said that at college he had wanted to be a writer. “But then I had this epiphany and mode of honesty: I’m not sure I had the patience,” he said. “I’m more into the instant gratification. Creativity coupled with commerce makes for something really interesting because it has to work. Otherwise, you’re not a business.”
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