Cannes Lions is off and running in a big way for 2018, David Droga certainly won even more admirers with his opening session, however the surprise pick of day one beyond a shadow of a doubt was the team of self-confessed “nerds” behind ‘The Rise of Hackvertising’: a thoroughly entertaining romp through Burger King’s recent international work, courteously designed as a loose manual for other brands to adopt its disruptive formula. 

Burger King proudly approaches marketing in a similar fashion to the hackers of the internet with a five-step formula: defining a system to hack (trawling the internet for trends); studying the system intimately; finding a way to “break in” or in marketing terms, make it relevant for the brand; call your lawyers (a point which would be hilariously elucidated later in the session); and finally deploy the attack. 

A loose comparison sure, but this was quickly forgiven in the face of irrefutably striking and unapologetically cheeky creative, like Burger King Germany's special cinema ad ahead of killer clown movie ‘IT’. The pseudo-trailer appeared to be advertising for a similar film, but instead revealed its own killer tagline, “The moral of this story is never trust a clown” which when pattered with the Burger King logo, quickly turned the audience’s suspense into laughter with an obvious jibe at competitor McDonald’s.

What really came across is how fun marketing can be, which also went for the on-stage chemistry between global CMO Fernando Machado and his agency DAVID Miami’s associate creative directors Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña. 

“You did a really shitty job explaining that idea,” Machado said of the way the duo first sold the campaign which would eventually see Burger King mentioned on the floor of the US Senate, and generate 2.3 million signatures for its campaign against dismantling net neutrality; not to mention acres of coverage, and an elusive status as the only large-scale corporation to be praised by hacking group Anonymous.

For advertisers at home, what the presenters badged as Hackvertising can be simply distilled to a willingness to playfully tap into the zeitgeist and react quickly but with real bravery. Not in the form of a single witty tweet, but stunts with real impact, such as the way the brand chose to garner positive awareness by leveraging and publicly compliment McDonald’s Argentinian campaign to donating all proceeds from the sales of Big Macs to a children’s charity. 

“Burger King wanted to get into the conversation in a nice way,” explained Casal. “So that day we stopped selling Whoppers and sent everyone to McDonald’s.”

“We’re hackers, not douchebags,” deadpanned Machado. They’re also very effective marketers, achieving 30 billion impressions over four years as well as £400 million worth of free media coverage. 

A close second to Hackvertising, was of course David Droga. The Cannes Lions organisers showed their commitment to creativity by giving Droga – the winner of the most Lions in history – the honour of opening the festival and talking about his 30-year career in advertising. 

It was a reminder that creatives see trends come and trends go, but great advertising is often just about engaging people viscerally. 

Droga showed a four-minute ad, a point of pride for him personally due to its ability to stand out in an age of super-short ads. The film consisted simply of close-ups of the faces of people as they looked at the Leonardo da Vinci painting ‘Salvator Mundi’, which Droga’s client Christie’s was auctioning. 

He also engrossed the audience with his life journey from relative obscurity as a child in a remote town “a million miles from anything”, to a man who asked the chief of Saatchi & Saatchi for a Picasso as a reward for the London outpost winning Cannes Lions Agency of the Year in 2002.

“Why the fuck not?” he asked. “Why can’t creative people get rewarded for what they do for agencies? Some people are happy that creatives are focused on award shows and not on what they’re getting paid.”

Yet he had the audience intrigued with a contradictory account of how he gave back his 25% stake in an agency [he didn’t name it but it was Omon] for nothing more than a Persian rug, despite its imminent acquisition by Omnicom agency Clemenger. Why? He wasn’t ready to “settle down”, instead choosing to work in Singapore at the age of 26. 

“Australians are a competitive people and I wanted to prove myself abroad,” he said. 

His frankness also threw up a little-aired tale from the early days of Droga5, which was raised as an example of how precedent set in a company’s foundational stages can set the tone for the business. He pitched to GE that it should highlight its Olympic sponsorship by constructing a building in the centre of Beijing featuring all its technology and he cold-called famous designer Philippe Starck and architect Bill McDonough. “They agreed to work with me, not because of who I was, but because they believed in the power of an idea. Ideas break down barriers.” The key message here was to take risks, “stop playing to not lose and start playing to win”.

The project ultimately didn’t happen, but it set a course for Droga5 to collaborate with anyone and have ambitions that extend beyond our own talent base. 

Linking that back to the attraction of Cannes Lions, he said: “We’re an ideas industry and that is the beauty of being at this festival.”

Management consultancy McKinsey quantified the importance of companies successfully integrating the creative and data aspects of marketing with "Redefining Creativity in the Digital Age". Cannes is never short of sessions that raise the conflict between left and right brain thinking, but at least this one was based on quantitative research with 200 CMOs and interviews with 40 of them. 

“We’ve been able to prove that the integration of data and creativity drives growth,” said McKinsey propellerheads Jason Heller and Brian Gregg. Yes, they boldly claimed that the group of companies which succeeded in doing this had twice the growth rate of companies that didn’t. 

Their three key characteristics for successful companies were identified as follows:

Treat creative people and data people as equal partners, and give them fresh insights that help them work together. For example, one CMO pulled data from their brand’s call centre and had creatives and analysts working together on it.

Break down silos with agile marketing, which partly meant combining people from different departments (e.g. data, media, IT, brand) into integrated teams rather than keeping them separate. They also found that successful companies did more A/B testing. 

Seek whole-brained talent (as opposed to right or left-brained talent) and look for creatives who are interested in analytics and vice versa. 

While McKinsey was focused on a trend shaping the future of marketing departments, adman Per Pedersen was agonising about ad agencies being stuck in the past and having become “less creative than their clients”. 

The Grey global creative chairman railed against “the old agency model” - the huge offices, the holding companies run by finance people, the acceptance of mediocre work - venturing so far as to unfavourably liken it to the progressively more washed-up David Hasselhoff, versus a progressively more kick-ass Jeff Bezos. 

It’s time for agencies to hire rule breakers and put creative people in charge again, he told the audience, showing the agency world’s traditional concern for being able to tap into ‘pure creativity’. 

“Put creativity at the centre of the agency and put creative people at the top. Hire talented, frustrated people, the kind of people who don’t want to work for in-house agencies.” 

Shifting focus to emerging markets, future-spotter WGSN’s director of insight and executive editor Andrea Bell identified Muslim millennials are the next big thing. Muslim consumers are projected to spend $327bn next year and to make up a quarter of the world’s population by 2050. 

Another source of potential future growth for brands will be mobile commerce, which will grow out of e-commerce with the arrival and growing penetration of the 5G mobile standard. “AR and VR experiences will happen from our phones,” Bell said. 

Bell’s final mega-trend is the sharing economy, which is predicted to be a $325bn business globally by 2025. She gave a shout-out to Amsterdam as well as New South Wales labelling them as places where local authorities are actually deciding to invest in sharing economy businesses rather than fighting them. 

Another session offered an insight into the growing popularity of a style of advertising in the US where real people are unwittingly filmed being put into extraordinary situations. Production company Helo and director Jeff Tremaine showed themselves to be arch-exponents of this method, which was famously employed on Bud Light’s ‘Up For Anything’ ad a few years ago. A fresher take involved insurance company AllState convincing a couple that their house was being ransacked while they were at a baseball game. Not only that, but the miscreants were selling their possessions on live TV through infomercials that were being shown at the game. 

“It takes a brave ad agency to pitch these ideas, but I think the reward of doing it, when you see someone authentically reacting, there’s so much more to than an actor. I love doing things for real,” Tremaine said.

And that’s all the best from Cannes Day One! Plenty more to come over the next four days..