MADFest: Dare
To Be Different

From Google to XR, we’ve collated the insights from our favourite speakers.

Last week we went to MADFest, the marketing festival on a mission to shake up the traditional conference landscape with a ‘Dare to be different’ attitude. From Extinction Rebellion’s call for change in Adland, to tips on embracing your inner weirdo, we’ve collated the top insights from our favourite speakers.

madfest talks

“Creativity, in this world where change is the only constant, has become a superpower.”

Craig Fenton, Director of Strategy & Operations at Google

Discussing the importance of innovation, Craig Fenton gave his tips on how to create an environment of productive disruption.

‘Create a mindset of relentless restlessness’

Change is good, and vital for pushing forward with innovative ideas. We must seek opportunities to improve to avoid getting stuck in our ways. Referencing the success of the

All Blacks, Fenton advised ‘when you are on top of your game, change your game.’  Adopting an innovator’s mindset is crucial for staying ahead of the curve.


It’s important to feel comfortable making mistakes. Fenton expressed the importance of ‘creating an environment where it’s safe to play.’ By cultivating a space where ‘experimentation is the norm and failure is a badge of honour’ innovation will flourish. 

‘Ask the Audience’

The digital age has changed the way we connect. Social media gives us access to millions of people… so why not use those connections to source new ideas? ‘Never before have we had such an easy ability to test our ideas with the people we sell our products or services to.’ Fenton says ‘ask for ideas’ and you shall receive.  

His final words of wisdom: ‘The jeopardy of success is that it locks you on the rails that have got you there’


“People trust the people behind the brand.”

Lauren Spearman, Head of Brand Advocacy at is the homeware brand on a mission to make design more accessible. Dedicated to building a loyal base of brand advocates, their current campaign encourages content makers to share their snaps with the #MADEdesign hashtag. If over 40,000 customer tags on instagram is anything to go by, it’s working. Lauren Spearman, gave her advice on building brand love and developing customer relationships.

made dot com

‘Popularity doesn’t equal influence’

Numbers don’t really matter. have recognised that account following doesn’t equate to influence. The most important measure of an audience is their quality and interest.


‘It’s all about the brand fit’

When looking for influencers to work with it all comes down to shared values. Spearman advised to seek those working in similar field. Find those who have a genuine interest in the brand products or services. Genuine endorsement is worth its weight in gold.



‘The biggest factor in building a brand in any capacity is building real life genuine connections.’ Consider the ways in which digital relationships can be taken offline.


‘Value is a two way street’

Offer customers real value. Giving people a money-can’t-buy experience can encourage them to talk about a brand organically and with genuine enthusiasm.


‘Respect the customer’

We should always remember that whoever we are working with, they are a gateway to hundreds of thousands of people.

“Weirdos have more fun.”

Emma Martell, Head of social content at Virgin Trains

Emma Martell, Head of Social Content at Virgin Trains, is famed for challenging the social media status quo. From the award-winning #Avocard stunt to turning Dean Gaffney into a Global Influencer, Martell is an advocate for embracing your inner weirdo. She shared her top tips for working weirder to create thumbstopping content.

‘Recruit a weird influencer.’

Who better to encourage people to audition to become the voice of a talking toilet than…Dean Gaffney? By recruiting the Eastender as an unlikely influencer, Virgin gained viral success. The public appreciate an underdog. Alongside the campaign they also released a series of Gaffney GIFs which have now been viewed over 22 million times.

‘There’s no such thing as a boring topic, commit to your weirdness’

Mixing up the mundane and approaching social content from a different angle has been a winning strategy for Virgin. Adding well-known selfie quotes to photographs of trains has proven to delight and entertain their customers. A reminder that that there is a human behind the brand.

‘Rewrite the brief’

If the brief isn’t working, rewrite it. The Virgin Trains Twitter feed is dedicated to celebrating those notable yet unreported news-hooks that no one else cares about.

‘Work weirder’

Sometimes a change of environment is all it takes to inspire new thoughts and ideas. Martell confessed that she finds supermarkets particularly inspirational.

‘Go rogue, it can sometimes pay to ask for forgiveness and not permission’

In response to a passenger tweeting to say they were hiding in a toilet onboard one of their trains, Virgin reacted with a ‘LIKE for us to lock him in for the night, RT for us to call the BTP’. Luckily the tweet was well received, entertaining their followers and accumulating over 2K likes.

‘Stop trying to please everyone. You’ll end up with insipid work that pleases no one’

It’s impossible to produce something that everyone will appreciate, but that’s ok. She also advised not to get hung up on the comments ‘just because a few people are offended doesn’t mean it’s offensive.’

virgin trains
dean gaffney
virgin trains social media

“You can shift mass behaviour in a heartbeat. Imagine what would happen if you donated those skills to something better.”

William Skeaping, Creative Strategist of Extinction Rebellion

It was a sobering break from the usual programming when Extinction Rebellion’s Creative Strategist, William Skeaping took to the main stage. Presenting statistics about the global climate emergency, he referenced Extinction Rebellion’s open letter to Adland and outlined the industry’s responsibilities to address its contribution to the problem. He went on to explain that XR have already ‘kickstarted a conversation that is beginning to roll into something more exciting’ and that there will be more disruptive stunts – like those seen at LFW – to come. 

Talking about the recent protests at Cannes Lions where over 15 people were arrested, Skeaping justified the groups actions stating ‘where change isn’t happening, a rebellion is necessary.’ He went on to add that they have been ‘speaking to big agencies to try and explain the urgency’ asking them to think twice about which brands they work with. 

‘If your CEOs aren’t going to change, change your CEOs’

He commended of Futerra, the creative agency combining the ‘magic of creative and the logic of strategy to make sustainability happen’ for their efforts. Also mentioned was the Create and Strike initiative in support of Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays for Future’ marches. He quickly circled back to his main agenda: calling upon the room of Ad industry members to rise up and create their own internal rebellions against CEOs that aren’t doing their bit. Will’s parting advice ‘Just get on with it’

extinction rebellion talk

Hungry for more? Take a look at our other articles, technical musings and photogrammetry experiments over on the Lens.