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MAD//Fest 2023 – don’t worry if you missed it, we’ve got you covered

Mad//Fest 2023 was busy – so busy in fact that by 11:30 am on Day 1 the organisers sent an announcement via their app asking people not to join the queue, and apologising for turning away entrants.

On the surface this isn’t a great look for Mad//Fest, but in truth it is a testament to the depth of content and speakers at this year’s event. Amongst the smorgasbord of content across the three days, three key themes emerged that any business thinking about or involved in advertising needs to know about: sustainability; conscious advertising; and artificial intelligence. 


Arguably the hottest topic of Mad//Fest was sustainability – and for good reason. In 2022, advertising in the UK was responsible for 208 million tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of an extra 30% of the UK total without advertising. With such a great impact, comes great responsibility. 

However, each party within the advertising ecosystem – whether it be brands, publishers, sell-side, demand-side and all Ad Tech’s in between – seemed as if the weight of sustainability rested upon their shoulders individually. This particular train of thought was most prominent among brands, with one brand spokesperson making the claim that they should lead the charge as they are “the ones with the money, and the ones with the brief.”

Whilst trying to shoulder responsibility for moving sustainability forward in the industry is admirable – climate change is no single group’s responsibility. The players that realise this and begin to look at the industry and sustainability holistically, engaging with partners in every nook of the advertising ecosystem, will be the ones that make the greatest difference. Cross-industry collaboration on sustainability is an agenda we at With, and our partners at Good Business, are helping our tech clients to expand upon. 

Conscious advertising

A no less important topic throughout Mad//Fest was conscious advertising and DEI. Diverse voices across the industry shared their thoughts and experiences on this topic, which is of course essential to understanding the ad industry’s short-comings and how it can move forward, becoming a beacon for other industries to follow. 

The conclusion of multiple sessions on diversity made it clear that advertising has a long way to go, both internally and externally, to ensure the whole industry is enveloped in conscious advertising practices. What is heartening however, is that the industry is increasingly adopting internal policies that promote diversity, and are engaging with industry bodies to make sure they are taking the right strides. 

Others, such as Channel Factory (disclaimer – a client of With!), looked at conscious advertising as something the industry can also deliver to clients by ensuring advertising technologies promote diverse creators and support diverse audiences. 

Artificial Intelligence

Last, but certainly not least, is the topic of artificial intelligence. It’s on the minds of nearly every industry and advertising is no different. 

Multiple sessions centred on this topic, and many of those that didn’t still couldn’t seem to escape from commenting on the constantly evolving narratives. The overwhelming feeling from the advertising industry was negative. AI was consistently proposed as bad for the industry, and for society as a whole. 

Whilst in its current state this may be true – especially if the creators of AI are not diverse and become inherently biassed – there was not sufficient discussion about how it could be created for the industry to elevate many processes.

Any AI used within the advertising industry must be created by a diverse team and include industry representatives. Only when we do this can we ensure that the technology will hold no inherent biases, and that the tool is genuinely useful. An outsider to the advertising world could end up creating something that completely misses the mark. Companies are clearly still looking for guidance from across the external communications arena on how to use AI both to maximise process, without compromising quality. As well as how to create everything from AI prompts to AI tools that are diverse-at-heart and don’t play out some of the existing industry biases. Something the team at With is increasingly guiding clients on as every industry delves further into the potentials of AI. 

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