MAD//Fest last week surpassed all expectations and truly blew it out of the park! As always, I was fortunate to kick off the 3-day event and host the main stage on Day 1. Here are the key insights I gathered from the many brands and commentators on stage, distilled into three main themes: 

1. Understanding Your Customer and Bold Communication 

The 'Fortune Favours The Bold' panel highlighted the balance between bravery and the need to hit quarterly targets. Kenyatte Nelson, Chief Customer Officer at Co-op, emphasised viewing revenue as an outcome, not the driver, of customer strategy. Michelle Spillane, MD marketing at Paddy Power, reminded us of the importance of continually marketing the value of marketing to the C-suite. 

This theme resonated with my paraphrasing of Philippa Tilley from Unilever in my opening keynote: “Marketing must be the epicentre for growth, otherwise it is just fluff.” In a growth-stunted economy, the creative and service industries are beacons of light, driven by a willingness to be bold, leveraging new tools and technologies for brand differentiation and incremental growth. 

Calum Laming, Chief Customer Officer of British Airways, reinforced this by discussing the importance of regular dialogue with the CFO, not just about numbers, but about marketing's broader role in customer experience. His insights into the synergy between internal and external audiences were a standout message. 

2. AI Creating Value for Progressive Marketers 

Laetitia Raoust, Chief Digital and Marketing Officer for L’Oreal UK, showcased how the brand is embracing AI to develop beauty assistants and new content. She highlighted the importance of selecting skilled 'prompt engineers' in businesses. 

The consensus among speakers, including Nils Leonard from Uncommon, was that AI is fundamentally transforming marketing, enabling new value creation beyond automation. Katie Evans from Burger King and Simon Gregory from BBH illustrated how their Zag tool leverages AI to stand out in a crowded market, proving that the smartest brands are using AI to support strategic work and achieve efficiencies. 

3. The Rapid Evolution of Retail Media in the UK 

Retail Media took centre stage with discussions on its evolution. Dean Harris from Co-op discussed whole market measurement evolution, and I debated with Tesco, Nectar360, Ocado, and Boots about the UK's unique approach. Major insights included the UK's shift away from data monetisation to a customer-centric focus and differing approaches to self-service in retail media. 

The sessions revealed a need for closer integration between brand and retail departments, with new operating models emerging. 

Looking Forward 

The overarching message from MAF//Fest and Cannes Lions this year is one of confidence in the future. AI is increasingly seen as an enabler of talent and creativity. Bold marketing strategies that prioritize the customer continue to succeed. Advances in data cloud and measurement technologies are enhancing accountability, particularly in retail media networks. 

The future looks bright for the industry and for Madfest as it joins the Ingenuity family. See you next year for an even more exciting festival!