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MAD//Fest 2023: our takeaways

From creative TikTok strategy and rethinking with AI, to media decarbonisation and what subcultures can teach brands. The scope of talks at MAD//Fest is WIDE.


Leah Groom



Six of the IMA-HOME team headed to the festival to hear from the experts, mooch around the exhibitors stands and indulge in the food and drink on offer. Here’s what they came away thinking about…

Georgia Preston, Marketing Manager:

The theme for this years MAD//Fest was ‘Riders of the Storm’, chosen to highlight the ways in which brands and marketers can successfully navigate turbulent times. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, and in this storm it’s certainly pouring.

Cost of living crisis, the rise of AI, post pandemic behaviour; there’s so much change to navigate that it can be hard for brands and marketeers to know how we should react.

Truth is, there isn’t always data or insight to back up how we ‘should’ react, and we shouldn’t let this allow us to get caught up in the storm. It was great to hear Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy UK, speak on the topic, reminding us all that you can’t always measure or attribute everything that is worthwhile doing (or not doing). When it comes to marketing, sometimes our gut is the most valuable source we have.

If we get stuck in the cycle of only doing the things we can quantify and ‘prove’ will work upfront, we run the risk of isolating streams of activity, ignoring the bigger picture and holding ourselves back in the long term.

Ben Cunningham, Media Director:

I last attended MADFest in 2019, and the festival has grown significantly since then. Along with the general growth, this year I also noticed a growth in the ‘attention movement’. In 2019, it was in early stages of its life, contained to a few small stakeholders.

Fast forward to 2023 and Mike Follet from Lumen was headlining the Attention Stage, explaining how important attention is, how it differs by media, how impactful it is on recall and other key metrics.

We also had the likes of Audi talking about optimising to attention with their digital media plans. There were an increasing number of media owners and tech brands talking about what they are doing in this space. Overall, whilst clients and agencies trading and optimising to attention is still limited to the few in terms of industry interest, attention as a concept is going from strength to strength.

Leah Groom, Head of Marketing:

On the Creativity Stage, Rachel Moss, Head of Marketing, Strategy and Planning at Camelot, spoke about brand investment and how to build a case for it within your organisation.

Rachel stressed the importance of bringing the board on your journey with you, being open at every step of the journey, and ensuring your plans are understood. That means leaving the marketing jargon at the door, telling your story in a simple way, and inviting questions.

As part of an internal marketing team within an agency, we don’t have the same struggle that some organisation’s marketing teams might – everyone at IMA-HOME knows the value of brand building. But there were still some interesting reminders. Such as:

  • There’s no point doing test and learn if you don’t talk about what didn’t work. That’s your chance to course correct and share learnings with stakeholders
  • Frame your plans as an investment, rather than a cost
  • Stakeholders want to know the budget is being spent on meaningful outcomes. Make sure you’re in agreement on what a meaningful outcome is

Egle Dooley, Senior Digital Media Manager:

SpecSavers spoke about how brand recall increased when brand content was followed by ads, and the overall positive impact this had on both purchase intent and brand awareness overall. The main message was that brands need to evolve and have a full funnel approach that considers perception change outcomes and attention as an objective.

Measuring attention seemed to be one of the main topics this year. Multiple talks discussed how it is important to measure viewability and attention for all your campaigns, to improve efficiency and performance. More attention = more ad recall.

Anna Fidler, Marketing Manager:

One talk that stood out for me was ‘Mad Women: Charting the Rise of Women in Advertising’. We heard from pioneering women who blazed the trail shaking up the misogynistic world of advertising to change how advertising represents women (it seems the series Mad Men was a pretty accurate representation).

The stories were at times a little shocking and they painted a very real picture of the state of play in adland only a few decades ago. It was inspiring to hear how these ladies worked hard – and are still working hard - to find a voice for women in the industry.

Jemma Darbandi, Senior Media Manager:

MAD//Fest is full of big brand names, and one of my favourite talks this year was by LEGO. They spoke about how they had to adapt their strategy to be more towards adults. It was interesting how they launched ads specifically to target them and set up new collaborations to appeal more to adults. For example launching a BTS pop group set which sold out in minutes!

Meanwhile, CocaCola spoke about how important it is for brands to stand out, and that distinctive brand assets are more effective than talking about the brand itself. They showed us how multiple brands across the world advertise everything in the same way, and the ways in which they are trying to cut through.


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