AI has become a totem of culture. The increased popularity of self-driving cars like Tesla, gimmicky home assistants including Amazon’s Alexa and press-worthy stunts featuring Blade Runner Director, Ridley Scott, in conversation with IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, have put the potential of AI on the radars of pretty much everyone. In marketing, we’ve already witnessed how AI can lead to improved performance and new levels of optimisation thanks to its incredible processing capabilities, but should the ad industry be worried about machines replacing creative types?
Is AI capable of producing creative content?
Computers can now draw, and they’re getting pretty good at it. Bloomberg Businessweek’s ‘Sooner than you think’ issues revealed how AI and computers can create new art, that if hung in a gallery, you’d have presumed were created by a human. It’s not just art that machines are nailing, but AI is skilled in mimicking us too. New models are capable of editing video creating ‘deepfakes’ which are bringing things that aren’t real to life. Samsung demonstrated in May its deepfake capabilities with a series of famous images, including Marylin Monroe and the Mona Lisa being animated – a novelty device which showed how the creativity of others can be reimagined and reanimated for a modern audience. However, progress in this field is being met with a little hysteria in the media as phoney videos featuring Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have surfaced, raising questions around ethics, security, and the risks of this technology falling into the wrong hands.
So, when it comes to visually replicating what we’ve done as humans, AI is doing well, but updates with text have been slower in comparison. AI, so far, is generating text which once read feels too top level or in some cases, like total nonsense. While this is great news for the human creativity argument, especially after the dodgy AI-created ads that have been circulated by the media, there is an opportunity to use this kind of technology in high volume, high waste marketing comms where concise, focused messaging needs to be used. Tests using AI to generate email marketing subject lines have been successful, with brands seeing uplift in open rates.
Information about consumers is not the same as insight into human beings
But when it comes to the death of the big idea, we can’t just point the finger and blame AI. There haven’t been enough instances of this technology being used to create big ad campaigns. It could be argued that the reason so many ads are so toothless and impotent is because they’ve been optimised to death for the sake of efficiency. Too many brands have sacrificed creativity in search for short-term sales improvement.
On paper, data can inform us as to what people in a location, at a specific time, are most predisposed to want to hear, but there are nuances in human behaviour and psychology that real-time optimisation just can’t unlock yet. Research by neuroscientists has proven that emotional intensity is linked to memory encoding which is crucial for long-term brand building, and generally, it’s those big brand campaigns that generate buzz or fame which stir those emotional responses (WARC).
The definition of creativity
Trying to convince audiences that AI can generate authentic images and text is one thing, but it’s not the same thing as creativity. That’s not to deny that AI is incredibly smart. Up to this point in time, AI has been successful in writing music, creating images and generating text – but these outputs are largely based on examples of human creativity, and it is possible to mimic something without being creative.
Being creative amounts to more than producing something that looks good. Creativity, particularly in advertising, should stir emotion. Each example of AI produced creativity to date has been a result of a carefully constrained algorithm, written to achieve a very specific end goal. However, without sentience or consciousness, machines can’t produce the complex ideas and visuals that are required to deliver effective marketing creative. Human input is still essential to generate an emotive output. For the brands that are using AI to deliver creative, they are achieving cut through as it is the AI that still steals the show.
The speed at which AI has been introduced to society divides audiences. Richard Edelman highlighted at Cannes this year how two-thirds of people believe that they are going to be replaced by robots in the next decade and it’s the fear that this outlook presents, that makes AI powered marketing appear creative in the eyes of the consumer. The remaining third of people may view AI creative outputs with excitement and interest. Whichever end of the spectrum you might sit, the AI has successfully triggered an emotion, something that P&G found vital when looking to improve the successes of marketing activity. As a new technology, it is novel, providing big brand marketing teams with large budgets to invest in data scientists to model advertising outputs for PR purposes. It’s the AI that is the big idea, not the creative work the AI produced.
Could you have the best of both worlds?
A balance needs to be sought. By pooling the capabilities of AI and humans, we can strive to achieve far better results.
In the world of MarTech, AI provides the opportunity to engage new audiences and produce more function elements of advertising (think emails and PPC). It is this type of collaboration that demonstrates just how beneficial AI can be. It’s faster, sleeker and often far more accurate than humans could ever be when it comes to processing data. It’s for these reasons that the combined efforts of humans and AI have created the best chess players in the world, animated world-famous paintings into moving images and found creative solutions to problems that we didn’t think we’d ever solve.
We need to use those skills to help us become more knowledgeable and create more beauty when it comes to advertising. By knowledge, we don’t just mean insight but emotional intelligence. Our unpredictability is why human intervention should remain. The big creative idea can shake up consumer perceptions as the power of ‘gut feel’ leads to great offline creative that opens a brand to new audiences and opportunities. Whether it’s PPC, email campaigns or brand communications, AI and creative can slot neatly together into your day-to-day world.
AI shouldn’t stifle creativity. Let’s use the algorithm to enhance human creativity. Armed with insight, leaving less to chance, we will free ourselves up to deliver braver, better brand creative.