Can Robots Crash the Creative Party?

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Today all of our teenage dreams of AI were shattered by the creative director of MPC Pete Conolly. “AI is not a cool white fibreglass being that will make us a martini.” Consider my hopes for AI both shaken and stirred.

There has been plenty of talk about AI during this week’s seminars, however, most of these have come from the side of technology. In this talk moderated by Branwell Johnson, director of content at Propeller PR, the panel is discussing AI’s potential impact on creative agencies. Alongside Johnson and Conolly is John Carney, chief digital officer at McCann, Jon Goulding, founding partner at Atomic and Henrik Busch, UK managing partner at Blackwood Seven.

Each representative use AI for different reasons, but they all agree on one thing. Its purpose is to assist the jobs that creatives are already doing, not take them. They are also all sold on the solid future AI will have in the industry. Carney, who uses AI to influence message, campaign and comms planning, said that “without question, AI and machine learning will power up millions of revenue for our industry.” His sentiment was shared with Goulding who agreed that “AI is going to fundamentally change what creative agencies do and what we’re paid to do.”

If you have ideas of AI as some sort of Jeeves meets batteries not included, then you echo the opinion shared by not only myself (here’s to hoping) but also many of MPC and Atomic’s clients. Goulding tells the audience “it can take three hours to explain AI to a client, it’s not something you mention in the last 15 minutes of a pitch.” Conolly puts it simply, “AI is going to be something we can’t ignore, but right now it is misunderstood. We think of AI as sentient beings but in reality, it’s a little less visual that that.” Conolly hits the nail on the head here, somewhere between old sci-fi films and buzz-words AI has lost its identity. Whether using Siri on your phone for the weather, or Google image search, AI is working in the background of many programs people use. It just doesn’t sound as sexy.

Busch says that “AI needs to help us with the work that we do. It doesn’t replace us or change our work. It allows us to make informed decisions.” This all sounds rather good to me, but as Johnson points out creatives aren’t big fans of disruption, he reminds the panel off when creatives walked out on the job after research was enforced upon the creative process. Conolly, part of the team who created Buster the Bulldog VR using AI gave a little advice, “It has to be introduced gently. Us creatives have egos.”

Towards the end of the discussion, opinions become a little split at Busch envisions a world in the future when AI will, “aid us within every step of our lives and partner with the humans.” The rest of the panel are a little less certain that it will become such an intrinsic part of people’s lives. They are also perfectly certain that the work and ideas of creatives cannot be replaced by AI. Goulding reminds us that “people love great ideas because of the human effort behind it. The struggle.”

It’s true that some of the best creative work in advertising can elevate itself beyond corporate restraint to something a little more “magic” as Goulding puts it. Conolly expands on this idea of magic questioning AI’s ability to be ‘creative’. “Isn’t creativity about breaking rules? If you take that as a premise, then if a machine is based on rules – how can you expect it to make a big idea?” Conolly has a different interpretation for the future of AI and it’s ability to take the mundane tasks out of daily work. “It would be great to ask AI, what’s that picture where… and it finds it for me quickly rather than spending time searching myself.”

Are we a little disappointed that AI might not hold a future robot butler? Perhaps, but the promise of this technology, which is constantly learning and growing, to assist in making brilliant creative work is a pretty good compromise.

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