MAD//Fest London: Takeaways from the industry’s grand reopening

The marketing and advertising event of the year, MAD//Fest, made its post-pandemic debut on 7th-8th July 2021. We take a look back at the speaker sessions and insights which really packed a punch, plus our own TAKUMI highlights from the 2-day industry extravaganza.

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The UK has been teetering around normalcy for a while, with in-person events slowly making a comeback. For the marketing and advertising industry, the promise of face-to-face interactions and the buzz of a crowded room couldn’t come fast enough. The industry’s grand reopening took place on 7th-8th July 2021, and the occasion was MAD//Fest London.

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Across two days, the industry’s movers and shakers congregated in the carpark of the Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, which had been transformed into a festival-esque utopia of tents, cabanas, picnic benches, and bars. The event boasted a jam-packed agenda of sessions hosted by industry experts, from marketing agencies to huge household names and disruptive start-ups, touching on topics like technology, innovation, growth, creative campaigns, and diversity. Sessions included “Be right here: Delivering bold possibilities for brand storytelling” (Amazon), “Expect the Unexpected” (Burger King) and “Trust, Transparency and Bullsh*t” (Klarna), to name a few. 

Amidst all of the insights presented in the various sessions, one common theme consistently cropped up: identity. Attitudes have shifted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and across the industry there has emerged an awareness of strengthened consumer value placed on authenticity and connection. Various brands that presented at MAD//Fest touched on these ideas, in some way or another, and acknowledged the importance of aligning their marketing and advertising efforts with their brand identity. 

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A key takeaway from Cadburys’ session was for brands to look inwards, understand their roots, and not to focus merely on storytelling, but also story doing. Facebook highlighted the importance of taking good intentions and turning them into meaningful actions, whilst Trinny London emphasised that the best brand marketing is that which relates to brand identity, since consumers want to identify that a brand stands for something they believe in.

For TAKUMI, diversity is crucial to our identity and we wanted to ensure that our own speaker session expressed this, as well as the importance and benefits of prioritising diversity and inclusion. We teamed up with June Sarpong, broadcaster and Director of Creative Diversity at the BBC, and Digilearning– a charity providing digital skills support with a particular focus on programmes, courses and mentoring to help equip young people with the skills to succeed in the digital and advertising industries.

 

The session was based on a new initiative facilitated by Digilearning, called ‘Flourish’, which aims to give underrepresented young people their first big break into the advertising industry.

MAD//Fest was the perfect opportunity to introduce Flourish and get as many brands, agencies and marketers talking about the importance of diversity.

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Day One

We took to MAD//Fest’s Hexagon stage to discuss why the time for action on diversity and inclusion is now!

Our Client Director, Evelyn Oluwole, co-hosted the session alongside Lisa Goodchild from Digilearning, the BBC’s June Sarpong and Saadia Abubaker, a young leader and inspirational speaker. Lisa Goodchild led the session and introduced the topic at hand by challenging attendees to consider why companies with diversity at the heart increase revenue by 20%, and grow twice as fast!

The session continued as a dynamic and illuminating conversation between the four speakers, each sharing thought-provoking insights for attendees to reflect on.

 

Why is diversity and inclusion, particularly in the advertising and marketing space, so important?

  • As a black woman, Evelyn Oluwole explained how she rarely saw people that looked like her in positions of leadership, so there was no indication to her that those kinds of roles could be open to her. 
  • Allowing people to voice their lived experiences makes for much more creative, exciting and vibrant results. It’s also much more fun to work with people who are different from yourself!
  • As a young, black, muslim woman, inclusivity is vital for people like Saadia. She explained how important it is to not only be seen, but heard. 
  • Saadia explained that when seeking opportunities, she wants to know that her rights and values can be accommodated-  that there is space for her to practice her religion, for example- without her facing repercussions for prioritising these things. 
  • June Sarpong shared that underrepresented groups often do not know what is out there for them, or that there is a place for them in the industry beyond entry-level jobs. 

 

People shouldn’t have to compromise their values to fit in.

Saadia Abubaker
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Where should brands and organisations begin?

  • June suggested that brands actively seek diverse talent and make sure that socioeconomic diversity is at the forefront of their strategy.
  • Evelyn said that we need to teach black young professionals that the path to leadership positions is open to them, and what to do in order to get into these industries and thrive.  On this note, Lisa reiterated that the problems lie at the senior level, so it’s important to ensure that those in entry and mid-level roles are supported to step into senior roles.
  • For Saadia, the most effective strategy for companies would be to create an initial action plan for their diversity and inclusion efforts.

We need to ensure that people not only have a seat at the table, but that they are also being given a voice.

Evelyn Oluwole

What can companies and organisations do to ensure that they are taking strategic steps towards diversity and inclusion?

  • Evelyn explained that, when people want or need something they instinctively start looking for it in the world. When people are searching for representation, they pay attention when it isn’t there. If businesses want to improve their diversity and inclusion, then they need to be serious about engaging in daily conversations internally. At TAKUMI, our senior leadership team ensures that diversity is at the forefront of conversation; we constantly evaluate what we are doing to implement our strategy.
  • If you do have people within your company from diverse backgrounds, it’s important to reach out to them too. Have conversations and get their opinions on what more can be done.
  • Challenge mindset. At TAKUMI, we encourage the brands that we work with to think more about what diversity means to them. We can’t be afraid to push back and challenge. It shouldn’t be about getting that ‘token’ creator to fulfil a box-ticking exercise. Creators and consumers value transparency and they can distinguish between brands that represent them, and those that don’t.
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What can individuals do to help?

  • People tend to overcomplicate things, especially when it comes to race. Be an ally; use your privilege and position to advocate on others’ behalf. This goes for all underrepresented groups- people of colour, disabled people and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • If you have expertise to share, then get involved with charities like Digilearning to offer your knowledge as a mentor. This is what the Flourish initiative seeks to do!

Day Two

On the second and final day of MAD//Fest, 12 young Digilearning students took to the Creativity Stage to partake in a live pitch challenge, based on a brief given to them by TAKUMI client NatWest. The students were joined by Matthew and Ryan– a creator couple TAKUMI have worked closely with on a number of campaigns and projects- who MC’d the live pitch session in their signature high-energy fashion.

Split into two teams, the students pitched their ideas to an expert panel: TAKUMI’s Evelyn Oluwole, Michelle Booth from NatWest, Tamsin Vincent from TikTok, and Gemma Greaves, Co-Founder of Nurture and Founder of Cabal. 

Wielding their incredible talent and fresh Gen Z perspectives, the teams shared their honest opinions of the brief, which was for a NatWest programme targeted towards young people. Armed with insights like ‘only 26% of young people say they like to read’, and their view that Gen Z think ‘banking as boring’, the teams showcased their solutions for improving awareness of the NatWest programme. They emphasised the use of trusted and relevant creators, and the fact that young people love social media and technology- things which they believe banks should utilise, in order to reach their audience and make banking fun, straightforward and accessible. 

 

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Michelle Booth, Head of Marketing Strategy and Innovation at NatWest, was so impressed by the creativity, insight and bravery of the students- not to mention the quality of their pitches- that she invited them all to present their ideas to her colleagues.

It’s initiatives like Flourish, coupled with events like MAD//Fest, which truly harness the creativity, innovation and talent of individuals. Whether a young, underrepresented person just trying to find their start in life, or a veteran marketer with years of experience under their belt… when we come together to share ideas, insights and opportunities with one another, we all seek to benefit. Sometimes we need a helping hand, and we all have a part to play in that.

If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved with Digilearning, follow @digilearningHQ on socials or head to the website.

If you would like to support Flourish or other Digilearning initiatives, you can make a pledge here. You can pledge an hour of mentoring time, run workshops, recruit for a role or internship, sponsor a programme, and more!