MAD//Fest Day One: the recap

We look back on our first day at MAD//Fest with presentations from Burger King, Virgin Trains and our own CEO Igor Volzhanin.

If there was one word to describe the first day of MAD//Fest London 2019, it would be: buzz. Hosted in Brick Lane’s trendy Truman Brewery, the buzz began when we joined a queue of excited marketing innovators, before entering the space which was alive with activity and the buzz of excited conversation from the off. All of the coolly decked-out stages were packed full of eager attendees and fascinating speakers who did not disappoint. The exhibition hall was a medley of the UK’s most creative, most innovative and companies with the most – you guessed it – buzz in the marketing space today, ourselves included!


At the end of day one – and before we get too carried away at the networking drinks – we take a look back at some of the most inspiring presentations from MAD//Fest so far.

Katie Evan, CMO at Burger King and Chris Brown, Managing Partner – Growth, Viseum: Reinventing a legacy brand

Katie Evans, CMO at Burger King and Chris Brown, Managing Partner – Growth, Viseum, took the audience through their journey of reinventing the legacy brand in the UK. 

At the beginning of this year, the Burger King brand had so little traction in the country that millenials, one of the main audiences they were trying to target, were questioning their very existence, revealed Katie. Their flagship product, The Whopper, had only 37% awareness across the UK, while McDonald’s restaurants outnumbered them 3-1. They were stuck with the dilemma: how do we speak to a new audience, a new generation?


The brand had been using the same ad campaigns in 2015-17, campaigns that had incredibly low ad awareness – especially with the all-important 18-35 demographic – and focused almost entirely on discounted prices. 

Their decision to change things was a radical one. They decided they needed to get back to basics, to what the brand was built on, and focus their marketing efforts entirely on The Whopper.

They created a campaign that boldly, bluntly and – as many suggested – bossily told the UK exactly what The Whopper was to recapture the nation’s hearts, with the tagline: “Whopper: Go on, say it”. And they focused on putting the product where everyone would see, explained Chris. Burger King changed their media strategy overnight, putting ads in iconic locations across the country and positioning them in media spaces that millenials couldn’t ignore.

In particular, they focused on a campaign, ‘Whopper Wednesday’, where they gave out free Whoppers on the 17th of April to create awareness, taking out a page in the Metro newspaper to promote it nation-wide. More than 64,000 people ended up picking up a free Whopper, and even more showed up at restaurants across the country. How’s that for a reinvention?

Tania Feeley, Managing Partner at RAPP and Igor Volzhanin, CEO of Datasine: What makes people click?

Second to the Day One stage to talk about what makes people ‘click’ was Tania Feeley, Managing Partner at RAPP, and Igor Volzhanin, our very own CEO.

Igor opened by talking about Centaur chess, a chess game which sees a team made up of human and machine pitted against another human-machine hybrid team. While humans have struggled to beat an AI made specifically to win the game, it was quickly discovered that the most successful chess teams were made up of a machine making computing decisions and a human picking which decisions to follow. This human-machine team beat the machine-only team every time.

So how can we apply this approach to marketing? 

Well, it all boils down to content preferences, the two argued, and content preferences rely on engagement data to see what people are clicking – or not clicking – on. You can use this data to create an AI which understands what your audience wants to see to help you in your creative decision-making. 


Tania gave the example of a copywriter using an AI recommendation system which suggests changes to the copy based on the audience’s preferences. The human makes the final decision, and can make the creative decisions that the machine cannot. Like in Centaur chess, the two working together results in a much better piece of copy. 

Creativity is at the heart of this process, Igor explained. But in a world where we’re so laser-focused on results – and actually held back by our obsession with data – creativity becomes something we fear. We’re afraid to make creative risks in case we fail, so we just stick to what we know works and ultimately don’t innovate. But with AI we can take risks, we can play around with our marketing assets and use all our creativity before we trigger costly campaigns. With AI, that fear of failure will become a thing of the past.


Find more about how Datasine uses content preferences and AI to optimise marketing assets.

Emma Martell, Head of Social Content at Virgin Trains: Why weird wins on social media

At Datasine, we love a weirdo. So when Emma Martell, Head of Social Content at Virgin Trains delivered her presentation (with her baby girl strapped to her chest, by the way) we were sold the second she announced: “This presentation is about being weird on social media.”

There were five key benefits of being weird on social, she noted:

  1. It grabs attention – Emma outlined a campaign where Will Ferrell was the face of Virgin Trains’ new ‘talking toilets’, and followers had a chance to win a signed toilet seat. This led to more than 8,000 engagements
  2. People tend to forget your regular marketing, but weird ideas are sticky – another competition Virgin Trains ran was for people to audition to be the voice of the talking toilets. 5,000 people applied
  3. People already use social media to be weird, so you’re in good company! Plus it immediately gives you a quirky, relatable tone
  4. Weirdness is a great tool to fight against online negativity 
  5. Being weird is fun! Emma-Martell-Virgin-Trains

And she had a few ideas about how you could go about implementing this ‘weirdness’ online:

  1. Involve your audience and use them as inspiration for your weirdness!
  2. Recruit a weird influencer – Virgin Trains used EastEnders star Dean Gaffney
  3. Understand there’s no such thing as boring content – Virgin Trains posts images of their trains with selfie-like captions such as: ‘Felt cute might delete later’ to stop them being stale
  4. Find the right opportunities to embrace your weirdness, not just sticking to the same social calendar of Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas etc. 
  5. Fully commit to your weirdness

So if Will Ferrell becomes the new face of Connect, you’ll know why…

We’re going to be at MAD//Fest Day Two tomorrow, so come swing by our stand and say “Hi”.



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Jergan Callebaut
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