Watch out, creative agencies – AI is here and it wants your metaverse!

How creative agencies can work with AI instead of work against it

Lawrence Dodds

Planning Partner UM


For years, we’ve watched artificial intelligence and machine learning advance in leaps and bounds. Media planners and strategists alike have feared for their jobs in an age of tech-driven speed and efficiency. And all the while the creatives sat back and smiled, thinking that their livelihoods were safe.

Then came the latest incarnation of the DALL-E software from Open AI, which has shown that AI can generate photo-real images to order, just by typing a prompt into a window. And now it’s in beta, which means it’s commercially available, with other similar platforms hot on its heels.

Suddenly, a whole segment of creativity has been democratised. If a group of agency folk are brainstorming ideas, they can create a visual representation of their concepts in mere minutes. 

A whole segment of creativity has been democratised

Lawrence Dodds, Planning Partner, UM

But perhaps even more importantly, brands and agencies can pivot and test new creative campaigns at literally the touch of a button. And in an age of dynamic creative, where real-time data allows brands to switch their display ads or digital billboards to match needs and audiences that shift from minute to minute, that could be a game-changer.

Maybe the creatives actually have as much cause for concern as the planners, after all.

Control matters

Obviously, AI software at its current stage of development is far from perfect. It’s hard to get over the many news stories of how chatbots and services, even from digital powerhouses like Microsoft and Meta, immediately pick up on the worst of the internet to become racist and sexist in hours.

No marketer is going to relinquish control over their creative executions to an algorithm that might start spouting offensive slogans and ideologies. Or what if it ‘saw’ that BAME and elderly people are often minor rather than lead characters in ads and TV shows and so consistently created ads that never had a black or older person in the forefront? There can be a wealth of unintended consequences.

However, there are many companies looking to train AI to be more brand safe and to employ better datasets. What DALL-E and its peers are demonstrating is that creativity is not the ‘last bastion’ of humans vs. machines, but simply now another chapter in the technology arms race.

And, as with all areas where AI is feeding into advertising and the media planning process, what marketers will appreciate are the efficiency benefits. The ability to adapt and rework creative images on-the-fly can make ads ‘self-serve’ in a way that has never previously been possible.

Metaverse comes calling

With the metaverse on the minds of every brand and agency right now, the opportunity presented by AI creativity is immense. Companies like enable brands to build interactive 3D digital experiences and environments, which are likely to form the foundation of digital experiences as it moves into this exciting new stage of development.

This is also where the ability to build, adapt and transform creative executions dynamically and at once will be of the most value. The intent of the metaverse is to create a rich environment that can quickly generate objects and imagery and react to user behaviour then and there. AI will likely have a huge role to play in helping brands create and populate this ‘fluid world’.

Plus, of course, dynamic creative images are just the beginning. Video is a likely next step.

Can AI devalue creativity?

Creative agencies are going to have to show how their process adds value, if they want to successfully compete against an AI painter/photographer that can create an image in seconds. It may even be the case that the creative production process will move away from agencies entirely and control over it will become the purview of the tech giants like Meta and Google. 

AI is already at the heart of the planning process, but marketing directors are likely to be enthused about the opportunity to move it into the creative process as well.

This isn’t going to happen overnight, as clearly AI still needs a lot of work before any brand is willing to sign over creative control. However, just as they currently happily allow machines to buy their ad space programmatically, the time may come when they’re willing to do the same with the message in those spaces. 

Guest Author

Lawrence Dodds

Planning Partner UM


Lawrence Dodds is planning partner at UM in London, having joined the planning team in 2012 and worked across a range of technology, healthcare and FMCG brands. Previously he worked at OMD EMEA.

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