MAD//Fest isn’t Glastonbury, but the analogy came up a lot during three wonderful days at the Truman Brewery, Shoreditch. They are, somehow, kindred spirits—each a beacon of creativity and innovation in their respective realms - reminding us how the power of coming together to share ideas and experiences is transformative.

By Ian Maskell, Founder, P E C O R I N O, and former VP Global Marketing, Unilever.

It's also impossible to see everything on every stage! MAD//Fest offers  a wealth of delights across 11 stages. From the Hexagon Stage, through to the themed stages that included Creativity, Creator Economy, and the new partnership with the Uncensored CMO podcast. Not to mention Brick Lane Beach and a wealth of intimate corners for food, drink and a good debate on how AI will destroy creativity and steal our jobs.

The 2024 festival attracted 11,972 marketing professionals, a seething mass of ideas, inspiration, groundbreaking strategies and AI !. Here are my highlights.

The "Fortune Favours the Bold" panel, steered by ex Britvic CMO Matt Barwell, with Paddy Power’s Michelle Spillane, Co-op’s Kenyatte Nelson, and Mars’ Mitch Oliver discussed the importance of fostering a culture of integrity and partnership - "If you remove all the risks, you remove all the rewards" resonated deeply, emphasising the need for courageous decision-making in our rapidly evolving industry.

Mitch Oliver (Mars), Kenyatte Nelson (Co-op), and Michelle Spillane (Paddy Power), on discuss what 'Fortune Favours The Bold' means in practice.

Ben Golik (Uncommon Studios)  opened with a captivating journey through 100 years of political advertising, right up to his  ‘He left them on the beaches’ unofficial Ad pre-empting the General Election (two days hence). Setting the tone for the wealth of knowledge and insight to follow.

Prof. Hannah Fry applied game theory to marketing with a fresh perspective on how to outmanoeuvre competitors in the digital age.

Eddie Izzard was fresh and uncontaminated by industry jargon, telling us how dyslexia made her persistent and tenacious. She’s never heard of ‘brand purpose’ but does believe brands and business must play their part in making the world a better place. She is struggling to be selected as a Labour candidate – but insists it will happen. Her standout quote ‘when Boris was throwing up at the Bullingdon Club in 1985, I was coming out as Trans’. She was embraced as the icon she is.

Sir Martin Sorrell was, well, Martin. Nervous about a Labour government but still optimistic! He predicts three major drivers of change in AI, Metaverse (powered by AI), Quantum Computing (because of AI). S4Capital is the new ‘foundational agency’ for General Motors who deploy marketing on two levels i) upper funnel (equity building) ii) lower funnel (performance) – interesting & relevant for all of us. Global Media is worth $1 Trillion (70% Digital / 30% Traditional) – highlighting the unstoppable shift to digital communications. Of 700 billion digital spend, 460 is with the ‘big three’ (250 Google, 150 Meta, 60 Amazon). Byte dance (TikTok) is more & more important with (100 billion in China & 35bilion in ROW). Martin’s ‘big picture view’ is unique to the industry, some other Sorrel quotes:

  • Programmatic has been around for 15 years but brands still don’t understand it.
  • Personalised models at scale are here to stay but have ‘quality implications’.
  • Most C-suite don’t use (or understand) Gen AI – so cannot build the right org structure to leverage.
  • AI will reduce time for visualisation & copywriting.
  • Our industry MUST start selling OUTPUT rather than hours
  • Media Planning will be driven by the algorithm with massive reduction of people
  • Knowledge sharing (e.g. within a company) will one game-changing impact of AI 

Nils Leonard (Uncommon) made sense with his analogy that creativity is a survival instinct (lovely Muhammad Ali meme) in amongst his 10 cheat codes for creativity in marketing.

Newsworks' Speakeasy was packed throughout the three days of the festival.

Newsworks' Speakeasy was a highlight with a delightful mix of food, drink and Politics. Grace Dent & others captivated us with stories about food and cooking; the mini wine tasting session was a lovely touch. Election Panel Special – a dynamic panel of journos, comediene & editors predicted the election result ‘Labour will win because the  Tories screwed up BUT its  much less euphoric than Blair in ‘97’

Firdaous El Honsali, Global Dove Masterbrand VP, showed us the best case study for growth & social impact in the form of DOVE (Unilever) & showcased DOVE’s elegant take on challenging beauty in an era where 90% of content is AI-generated DOVE message still stands: Keep Beauty Real. Well done!

Another slice of Unilever brilliance from Tugce Aksoy showed how consistency over 15 years  with Magnum True To Pleasure has taken a humble ice cream brand to the heights of both Fashion & Film – with celebrities and top influencers queuing up to dip their Magnum.

A testament to the power of bold ideas and the spirit of innovation, delegates left with a wealth of insights and a renewed passion for their craft. Congratulations to MAD//Fest for constantly improving an already great event, adding wonderful extra space  and giving us the best yet! Good to see so many old friends & industry leaders! Roll on MAD//Fest 2025!