Hacking into the zeitgeist to keep up with pop culture

Guilty? Fernando Machado (left), Juan Javier Peña, Ricardo Casal and session moderator the Burger King King

Guilty? Fernando Machado (left), Juan Javier Peña, Ricardo Casal and session moderator the Burger King King


Fast-food chain Burger King was named as Creative Marketer Of The Year at the Cannes Lions festival in 2017; and the company also walked away with a suitcase full of awards for its idiosyncratic and impactful work. So who better to appoint as Creative Effectiveness jury president for this year’s festival than Burger King’s larger than life global CMO Fernando Machado? Summarising the importance of the category in his jury president message, Machado said: “Amazing creative that drives results is the fuel that powers our whole industry.”

In terms of his own company’s marketing activity right now, Machado has placed a strong emphasis on what he calls hackvertising. On Monday at 12.00, he will be on the Lumiere stage alongside Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña of David Miami, explaining why it is important for brands to have a hacker mindset. Speaking to the Cannes Lions Daily News ahead of the session, he said: “Burger King is a brand that moves at the speed of pop culture. Well, at least that’s our ambition. Hackvertising is a common mindset we have. We are always searching for what will be the next big thing people will be talking about. We are always trying to anticipate what will be in the zeitgeist. And, when we define our target, we try to hack into that. We try to insert the brand in a relevant way. We push the brand to become part of the conversation.”

As an example of how this translates into work, he cited last year’s ‘Google Home of the Whopper’, a classic example of merging hacking with marketing — and big winner at Cannes Lions. “Not everybody was happy, of course. But when we do things like this our intention is not to cause damage. We like to see ourselves as white-hat hackers with occasional shades of grey. Anything that stands out ends up getting criticised by some, so we try to act based on our conviction and vision.”

In terms of how Burger King and David came up with the idea of hackvertising, he said: “We are all nerds, working on this brand. We tend to be glued to the computer screen more than we should. And maybe because of that and of the ambition we have to be part of pop culture, we ended up finding some conceptual parallels around things we were doing and things that hackers do. After we spotted the parallels, we started to study it and create a framework on how to go about it.”

Hacking of course is a fluid, fast moving concept, so how does it translate into creating a creative brand strategy? “We are always trying to surprise ourselves, our fans and the world out there. When Burger King is at its best, it tends to be ahead of its time. Think of Subservient Chicken, Whopper Freakout, Whopper Sacrifice, King’s Games and so many amazing ideas this brand has done in the past. So it is part of our challenge to raise the bar. And we are doing cool things right now. Scary Clown Night, Whopper Neutrality, McMansions, Stories Ordering, Whopper Emoji, Whopper No Show, are examples of that.”

At the Cannes session, Machado intends to show things “that hopefully will inspire clients to take the leap of faith when it comes to creativity. We will be on stage together. Client and agency. That is intentional. We want to show that great work can only be done as a result of a strong partnership. The challenge for the advertising industry is to sharpen the focus behind getting amazing ideas on the table. If agencies can manage to accomplish that, they will continue to add a lot of value to clients. Of course, the agency model will evolve (that's already happening). But, if I were on the agency side, I would focus on creative and not get distracted by anything else.”

Harriet Palmer