Ignore the “Robot” Rhetoric: AI won’t replace Ad Creatives

Let Mad Men be Mad Men, while AI is your Math Man

By Francis Turner, Us General Manager of native advertising platform ADYOULIKE
















Artificial Intelligence has quickly gone from niche topic discussed by scientists, mathematicians and developers to one of the hottest subjects in the technology world. Entire conferences are now devoted to it and other technologies in its category, like machine learning and NLP.

As conversations about AI grow more and more frequent, we hear a lot of uncertainty, with questions like, “Are we giving robots too much control” and in the ad world, “Will AI make creative agencies obsolete?” While I’m not fully qualified to answer the first question (although I have my opinions), I feel totally comfortable responding to the latter with a resounding, NO!”

One of last summer’s big industry stories was the commercial made by McCann Japan's “AI Creative Director.” It was a great tale reminiscent of the chess matchup between Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov or even the tale of John Henry the “steel-drivin’ man.” But that was not the reality. What really unfolded was, they let the technology loose analyzing a whole bunch of commercials to make predictions on what works for what. The computer spit out an incredibly vague directive: "convey 'wild' with a song in an urban tone, leaving an image of refreshment with a feeling of liberation."

Worst creative brief ever. And from there, humans came in to interpret what that should mean, and it’s real people who produced the actual spot.

I think we can all agree that this is not really AI making an ad. But what AI did do in this case, which is how it can benefit our industry without taking our jobs, is all that analysis. We humans can’t process as fast as a computer, nor as comprehensively and accurately. In the past, this wasn’t an issue. You knew that red was the color to use for snack foods because you sold more packages of the red one than you did the blue. But now, we have terabytes of data about who responds to red versus blue, where they are most likely to be when they want snacks and what time that will be. We spend time trying to make sense of it, and that’s time that should be spent doing what we love: being creative.

The benefits of AI extend beyond creative teams to reach the entire ecosystem of brands, publishers and agencies. For example, in the news of late, there’s been a lot of uproar about brand safety. No airline wants their ad next to a story about a plane crash and no fast food restaurant would want placement by a piece about food poisoning. Now, when everything was manual (and slow, let’s remember), a person would (hopefully) see the unfortunate juxtaposition before it reached the public. Now, especially with the advent of programmatic advertising, these things happen faster than the blink of an eye, in the cloud where no one could possibly catch it. But AI can.

These technologies can comprehend data at an incomprehensible scale at speed, analyzing thousands of pages every second, understanding semantics, concepts, IAB categories sentiment and more. So, without requiring additional human intervention, we can be sure a placement for McDonald's on a page with keyword “Salmonella” and emotion “Fear” can’t happen.

This is where AI can come to the forefront and drastically improve user experience. As machine learning technology is increasingly integrated, publishers will be able to improve their set of blacklist criteria and stop ads appearing on their pages where they aren’t appropriate. On the other hand, external ads can then be placed correctly, and add value to the user’s journey.

There’s really no doubt that AI is here to stay, and it’s already been proven that businesses that adopt it will find benefit. For example, consulting firm Infosys’ AI Maturity Index, released in January this year, found that organizations that have already deployed, or have plans to deploy AI technology expect a 39% increase in revenue and 37% decrease in cost by 2020.

Happily, they also found that, in 80% of cases where AI replaced staff, the business said they were redeploying or retraining staff.

For over twenty years, we’ve had to deal with poorly-targeted advertising, and now that AI is becoming increasingly integrated into marketing campaigns as well as providers’ targeting plans, we can expect to find our experience of the internet become far more relevant, insightful, and affecting over the next decade.

And ad creatives, I reckon your job isn’t just safe, it’ll be a lot more fun.