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Can technology be used as a tool for creatives or will it undermine the creative process?
The chances are that being replaced by a robot, outside of manual tasks and the occasional pointless Teams meeting, is not on your list of New Year's resolutions. Forecasting and trend articles have boldly predicted that for 2023 the rapid adoption of AI is on the cards. On social media, it's clear to see that the likes of Midjourney and ChatGPT have made waves be it for practical use or just for fun; who doesn’t want to see the mundane reimagined in space? Yet for all its fun and entertainment with AI there remains the fear-mongering narrative that robots are poised to take over the world, or in the case of advertising, take over the jobs of creatives.
Whilst it's impressive to see AI create an image or piece of copy based upon a small input, it's important to be aware of the limitations of the technology and be clever about the way it’s used. In Virtue’s recent Camoflags campaign, the agency used AI as a tool to create different versions of a creative and ultimately pit AI against AI to fool the technology. The project proved that when used effectively, AI can be used to aid creatives not work against them. In short, the rhetoric that you will be replaced by a robot is both unhelpful and uncreative.
Where talent remains the industry’s most precious resource, AI can be used to help talent fulfil a greater potential rather than instil fear. For it is the job of creatives to come up with creative solutions not just a creative output. Yet as the capabilities of AI grows and automation is used as a cost cutting exercise, the future of the tech hangs in the balance. We asked industry experts will AI kill creative teams in 2023?
I like to think that AI can help creativity rather than kill it. I can see the worry might be that clients see a cheap way to bypass the magic of human creativity, but I don't see that happening. It will never replace the spontaneity, left field and brilliance of thinking from a human mind. And as creatives we love the thinking too much, it’s one of the best bits of our jobs so why would we choose to farm it out to an algorithm. I think it is much more likely that we will add our creative magic to AI and use it as a tool to make something a computer could never think of but could help us execute.
It’s difficult to ignore all the headlines proclaiming AI as the big revelation of 2023 and having looked at its capabilities, I can certainly see some of the benefits. The capacity to generate imagery, form real time responses, and optimise language may well help drive efficiencies, particularly in performance channels, is an exciting prospect.
Having said that, does AI really have the potential to compete with creative teams? In my opinion, absolutely not.
AI may be clever but, what it will never be is creative. Nailing the charm of a well written pun, subtly articulating an insightful observation, or empathetically dramatizing a story are simply not within the realms of this technology. Let’s face it “You’re not you when you’re hungry” couldn’t have been written by a bot!
However, what all this AI discussion could kill, is the morale of our Creatives. If we start seriously entertaining the idea that AI could in any way replace the brilliance our creative colleagues, then they have every right to tell our industry to f*** off.
So, while I’m all for streamlining processes that free up Creative time, I think it’s really important that we’re clear about where the boundaries are, maintaining the distinction between the purely creative vs the more data driven components of what we do.
As agencies increasingly expand into more tech and data driven services, there are parts of the overall agency proposition that could be overtaken by AI in the foreseeable future, but thankfully, the art of conceptual creativity is not one of them.
The old ‘computers are coming to get you’ story driven by the rise of ChatGPT. I actually thought about this quite a lot over Christmas as I listened to my daughter making passable automated rave tracks with GarageBand and watched countless social ads in my feed as I went down the rabbit hole (New Year's resolution – set social time limits). AI (machine learning) gets pretty good at analysing what’s gone before and making educated guesses at what customers will like. But being fed brand-led creative that is machine generated will feel soulless very quickly. You or your kids quickly recognise an NPC (Non-Playable Character) in a game - they look like players but they are no fun as they are obviously automated. AI content will lack the human emotion and connections that longer form creative campaigns require – it’s OK for traffic driving optimisation in performance ads, but brand building? Maybe not.
Look what happened to KFC when they let their social content engine take over in Germany – a Kristallnacht commemoration chicken with extra cheese promotion anyone? An epic AI failure. What with me being a real human, and a historian, and working in advertising this did strike me as a bit dystopian. Would a real life creative team have pushed that one out in the modern age of inclusivity?
Over Christmas I also listened to Lori Lieberman’s story about the writing of the song ‘Killing Me Softly’. Now some recollections may vary of this event. It was undoubtedly a collaboration of musicians and songwriters, but what a story and what a song. Based on a poem written on a napkin at a Don McLean concert at the Troubadour, a personal recollection of strong emotions put to music became an epic song of our times to this day (two times). You can’t create a song like that with an algorithm and you certainly can’t create the backstory and inspirational spark.
So AI won’t kill creative teams (softly or otherwise) as creative people come up with real world ideas and collaborations and find new ways to engage customers and create connections. I’m sure clients will continue to explore AI to produce, deploy and optimise campaigns, but the magic happens where creative meets its audience. The point where machine meets human will always need the soul of a human and the eyes of an agile media creative studio.
Newness is often scary. But it also quickly transitions into ‘not-so-newness’. Not only did the invention of the camera not result in the eradication of painting, it actually led to a proliferation of new ways of seeing, making, and creating. The role of the artist merely changed.
We know that the potential of AI is vast, and with tools like Chat GPT and Midjourney entering the wider public consciousness, we’re only really at the tip of the iceberg. Instead of feeling threatened, however, the opportunity is absolutely there to enhance creative work with the generative potential of Artificial Intelligence.
This is all to say, creative teams won’t die in 2023.
My gut response to Will AI kill creative teams in 2023? was “no way!” But then I asked the question to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and got a more than passable response, which I briefly considered using… So in my case, AI actually made me think harder - it threw down a creative gauntlet and I think the same will happen for creative teams (and agencies).
At its heart creativity isn’t about churning out content, which can be done by AI. It's about making random connections to create brand new heart-stopping ideas. This can’t be done by AI which is wholly dependent on spotting patterns from the known. It can only be done by humans and I strongly believe two heads are often better than one in doing this.
So, I believe creative teams (and agencies) are pretty safe providing they truly are doing the best of what’s asked of them. And this is where AI’s creative gauntlet comes in, when scrolling through social media, or flicking through a magazine, or even watching an ad break, we are all too often greeted by a wall of same-ness where the brands could be interchangeable and the viewer is unmoved. In these instances, AI could definitely churn out a few executions. It’s up to us to use AI for our benefit - as another tool in our creative armory and motivation to be a little more creatively ambitious.
AI can speed up laborious tasks. Think long form copy using chat GPT, think quick storyboards using AI art. But - and this is crucial - we still need human questioning and guidance.
AI platforms are just ways to begin addressing a problem. Once they spit something out, the copy or creative ideas need to be refined and curated to make them accurate and relevant to audiences.
Therefore, there is still vital human input. In fact, the value of human creativity in relation to the functional elements actually rises. Creative teams able to master this process will be valued, not killed off. If you’re afraid of it, well, why not look into it?
There’s a misconception that AI being used in this way will harm jobs, but throughout history improving the tools and the way we do things doesn’t kill an industry, it just creates new ways of working. New jobs are created.
AI is a really useful tool, but it only mimics creativity that already exists. Like any software, it’s only as good as the input. Most output is pretty generic and bland because the input is generic and bland, but when the input is conceptual and visionary then the output can be pretty special.
Will AI ever have the same creative capacity as humans? Creativity is a complex process that involves the ability to generate new ideas, make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, and think outside the box. While AI can be trained to recognize patterns and generate outputs based on those patterns, it’s unlikely it will ever be capable of the same level of creativity as humans. Steve Johnson discusses these key human patterns that seem to generate innovative and original ideas in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation – a highly recommended read.
In 2023 and onward, we’ll likely use AI technology more to collect assets and input that helps drive the creative process forward. By integrating AI in our everyday creative processes, we can optimize teams and give them more freedom to innovate. Having said that, it will be key for businesses to carefully consider how they integrate AI into their workflow, to ensure that it is used in a way that enhances rather than replaces human creativity.
Using customer service as an example, although we have used AI in customer services for years in the form of chatbots and AI-powered voice assistants, it has never fully replaced the need for a human element in the customer support chain. Because AI is limited in terms of out-of-the-box thinking, there will always be that need for human input. Likely, the same will be true for the use of AI in creative professions.
An interesting question which really has a simple and complex answer. The simple one being no, creativity is a human characteristic which happens when novel connections form in brain, between people and the external environment, that spark off ideas that lead to creativity. The more complex answer is that elements of creativity can be done by AI, but it will be limited to those elements that can be trained, whether that be training a person or training a machine.
The biggest threats to creative teams from AI will be if the actual creative outputs become standardised and mundane - if creatives stop pushing boundaries and rely on the past to guide what they do in the future. AI will never be able to compete or even generate ideas that are novel, that speak “aha” moments, and ultimately challenge the way we see the world currently.
AI is modelled on the physical aspects of the brain, building models which use historical data to extrapolate how it should respond in the future. The human brain is more than just the neurons and synapsis that inhabit the physical space. It contains elements which are non-observable, that allow humans to innovate, not just by the connections formed in the brain, but through the connections made with other humans and the external environment. These combined are what will make it hard for AI to kill off creative teams any time soon.
The recent explosion of visual AI tools is an exciting prospect, allowing huge numbers of people to create fully realised imagery from scratch. As a fast way to generate ideas – for outlandish products, colour palettes, compositions, moods, and other visual elements – they will become a valuable part of the creative process, and allow teams to reach solutions faster. However, we must remember that machine learning can only ever work from existing images, trends and tropes. Talented human minds will always be required to build new ideas which aren’t restricted to the paths we’ve already travelled.
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