Republic of Media takes MAD//Fest 2019


Billed as ‘probably the best adtech, martech and tech disruption festival in the world’ by the organisers, MAD//Fest London ( took place on the 13th and 14th November, bringing together under one roof some of the biggest names and so called disruptors from our industry.

Thinking this sounded too good to miss, we sent three colleagues along to check out the action, under the premise they’d come back and share the key highlights from across the two days.

So here it is – an A-Z of MAD//Fest 2019, featuring all the key things we felt were worth knowing and think you should too…

A is for Avocado
Virgin Train’s Head of Social Emma Martell, touched on the resounding success of their #Avocard campaign. In response to the release of the 26-30 railcard crashing the site, Millennial travellers were told to bring an avocado as a substitute for a paper card – and they went wild!

B is for Brexit
Interestingly, the overriding approach to Brexit from all speakers was quite frankly, the less said, the better!

C is for Change is the only constant
Starling Bank’s Chief Growth Officer, Rachael Pollard, told us that “change is our only constant,” proven by committing to 52 new tech releases in the next year alone. Craig Fenton, Strategy and Operations Director at Google, also told us that the best businesses work on harnessing cultures of relentless restlessness. We like that.

D is for Disruption in business is real
1) Mega macro trends (looking outwards i.e. Brexit, climate change), 2) Organisational position – is when you still do what people want and 3) Resistance to change (what is the resistance likely to be within the organisation to change?). These were the three areas Alex Holt, Strategic Consultant at Edit suggested businesses need to understand to be ready for disruption.

E is for Elephant in the room
Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room was the genuine reality of our un-diverse industry – looking around the room only to be faced predominantly by white, aged forty something males (whose looks also apparently closely resembled estate agents letting their hair down on a Friday afternoon…).

We couldn’t agree more…




F is for Free Sh*t
– Five Chi-llys (water bottles)
– Four media nerds
– Three free pints
– Two sustainable glitters
– And a handful of Kit Kat Chunkies…

G is for “Go Whopper or go home”
Katie Evans, Burger King’s Marketing Director, told us how market challenges and falling sales had led them to look backwards, to move forwards – away from price-led comms to their icon product the Whopper, putting it front and centre of a new TV and digital strategy. The result? Sustained business growth over the past 18 months.

H is for Homogenous Content
Whilst we took some good stuff from MAD, the reality is, there wasn’t much ‘new thinking’ to come out of the conference than what we already know. A clue that there are perhaps too many people talking a good game, but not doing. Perhaps…

I is for Influencer Influenza
Believe everything you read and influencer marketing is in trouble, based on growing skepticism about their ‘realness’ and ability to create sales. MAD//Fest on the other hand showed us that the industry is booming – that is if you go off the sheer volume of influencer companies in attendance!

J is for Joints smoked – or not!
Guy Abrahams, Global Strategy Director at Zenith, told us “why marketing today is wasted on youth”. Amongst today’s youth, dating’s in decline, vices are near vanishing (that includes the amount of hard and soft drugs being taken) and disposable incomes are shrinking. His point – why the obsession over them when we know 60% of disposable income in the UK alone is held by the over 55’s…? Hmmm.

K is for Kid in a carrier
Perhaps the most progressive feature of the entire of MAD//Fest (saying something?!) was Virgin Trains’ Emma Martell and her decision to bring along a very special guest to the event… her new born daughter cradled carefully into a wrap carrier. In a truly admirable fashion, she energetically embraced the crowds in what was a defyingly brave and bold statement!



L is for Louis Saha!
We heard from the ex-Man Utd, Everton and France legend, about his new company Axis Stars, a super secure and private closed network for famous folk. Prem footballers featured unsurprisingly heavily, the idea being that it gives the right brands the ability to connect with – and here’s the difference according to him – people with influence, NOT man-made influencers!

M is for Milestones, not Moments
One might assume that Paddy Power has built its success by accessing relevant ‘cultural moments’ instantaneously. However, the brand’s head of PR explained how they actually take a more considered approach, by rather focusing on milestones it wants to align with, not just the immediate news agenda.

N is for Next, not now
Gail Noah, Media Director at L’Oreal, spoke about their new working model with media agency, Essence, underpinned by constant innovation planning for what is coming next and not just now. It’s leading big change within the marketing team at L’Oreal, including the advent of a new breed of ‘tech’ employees.

O is for Ogury
Ogury delivered possibly the most astonishing stat of the festival from a new mobile research piece to over 200,000 consumers. Despite an estimated $165B being spent on mobile advertising in 2019, 9 out of 10 consumers agree that targeted mobile marketing is WELL annoying. Is anyone actually surprised at this? Lots to be done still clearly for the industry.

P is for Poetry
Co-founder of Dishoom, Shamil Thakar, took us on a flamboyant journey which started in the Persian cafes of Bombay and travelled east to west to Dishoom in Kings Cross London. He emphasised the importance of authenticity in creating a meaningful brand experiences, something he applies in fascinating detail to all of his award winning and celebrated restaurants.

Q is for Questions – or lack of!
There was a severe lack of participant engagement from the crowds at many of the presentations. Faced with some of the industry’s largest and most influential figureheads, the lack of willingness from the audience to participate in debate or ask questions was frankly strange. We’ve all heard the jokes about newcomers to work today being afraid to pick up the phone…

R is for Risk-taking
A key undertone from many was BE BRAVE!! In a time where greater political and economic uncertainty is creating a growing reticence towards risk, we saw how those going against the grain are WINNING. To quote Paddy Power’s Paul Mallon, “If you chase consensus, you get mediocrity”. Too true we say.

S is for Silent Disco Selfies
In an attempt to recreate the ultimate Oscar selfie, Keynote presenters raced to attain the best selfie as standard, featuring the entire audience equipped with what can only be described as silent disco headphones. #THESELFIEISSTLLALIVE.

T is for Truman Brewery
Home to MAD//Fest’s inaugural event (and further expanding this year to accommodate the industry’s growing intrigue), Shoreditch’s Truman Brewery served as the spectacular space for the two-day affair, attracting an audience of over 4,500 industry professionals across 50 plus speaker sessions. The only let down was the second rate and flat beer – note to organisers when looking for feedback!

U is for Umbrellas Galore
Specialists ascended on mass to MAD, setting up their stations in what can only be described as true British fashion – putting their stakes (parasols) in the ground and serving up food (branded cupcakes & free sh*t) for the seagulls (us!) to willingly flock.

V is for Viewability, or is it?
Guess what? Despite the industry’s fascination on viewability, there is growing evidence to suggest we need to STOP chasing fleeting moments that last 1-2 seconds, and INSTEAD focus on quality of creative, content and environments. In other words, chase ATTENTION. YES!

W is for Weird – peculiar as the new normal
In a world filled with marketing mediocrity, Virgin Trains, Paddy Power and Burger King taught us that weird is in fact wonderful – weird wins. From recruiting atypical influencers (Dean Gaffneys of the world unite!) to creating satirical content from brand haters, being strange can get you ahead.



X is for the X button
In another stat from the aforementioned Ogury research, they told us that the majority of consumers do not read consent notices in their entirety, instead clicking the small x in the corner as fast as they can. Hardly surprising, yet worrying when you understand the amount of data this often means you pass over. Their recommendation; brands need to get more consumer-first – presenting viable, easier to understand privacy options. They’re getting away with it now, but the backlash could be coming…

Y is for Youth
Rather than simply repeat ourselves, please refer back to point ‘J’ to get the viewpoint that marketing to youth is wasted!

Z is for catching some ZZZ’s
It’s fair to say, we had a busy couple of days at MAD//Fest – full of insights, success stories and thought-provoking statements that induced some proper sleep (afterwards, not during). Here’s to next year and hopefully, you’ve found enough in the above to warrant a trip yourselves!



If you want to find out more about any of the points shared, please contact any one of our three authors to learn more:

Leigh Herbert – Director of Client Services –
Natalie Green – Comms Planning Manager –
Joseph Lee – Digital Manager –