ai and ads FEATURE
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Could it be good for a robot to write TV commercials?

Ad agency creatives are trained to take risks. Pushing beyond the limits of standard thinking can be vital in helping to get a client's point across. But in 2016, one agency boss took a gamble that could end up rocking the sector.

Shun Matsuzaka, a creative planner at McCann Japan, wanted to see if an artificial intelligence (AI) could write an ad as well as a human could. So, he got his creative director, Mitsuru Kuramoto, to write an ad. Then he used AI to create an ad and showed both to the public.

Kuramoto's ad, for Clorets Mint Tabs, came out on top in a nationwide poll, but not by a wide margin. It was picked by 54 percent of the sample, only an 8 percent lead over the ad written by the robot, called AI-CD ß.

But professionals had a different opinion. In a second poll, among 200 ad execs at an Incorporated Society of British Advertisers meeting in 2017, the execs chose the robot ad. The startling outcome has not just led to the AI being used on the McCann team, but has also got tongues wagging across the sector. 

After all, even though McCann admits its robot was mostly a stunt and had a lot of human help in writing the ad, some see AI as having a major impact on the spots we see on TV and elsewhere.

"Although many people think automation is the antithesis of creativity, AI can bring much-needed relevance and speed to the art of writing good advertising content," argues Chris Gorell Barnes, CEO and founder of Adjust Your Set.

"This gives content much more impact than a generic bit of copy," he says. "That said, AI will not be able to craft a campaign's overarching narrative."

The need for speed is growing with the rise of online ads, says Ben Knight, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Croud. "The current way in which digital creative assets are delivered is not fit for purpose," he comments.

"Facebook campaigns see creative fatigue in as little as 10 days," he says. "AI-designed networks mean very simply that we'll have the data to hand in real time to inform the design, makeup, and messaging of our creative campaigns."

In the last 18 months, Croud has handed AI 23 percent of the jobs that used to go to humans. That does not mean the humans are now sitting idle. They are now doing new types of work that did not exist before, Knight says.

Questions remain, though, over just how far this process can go. "Understanding how an idea supports and chimes with a given brand is incredibly subjective and nuanced," says Rob Kavanagh, executive creative director at Oliver.

At the end of the day, he says, humans can tell when something is off-brand. "I think AI would struggle with that," he believes.

Adrian Leu, CEO of tech firm Inition, sees AI as simply working hand in hand with the standard creative process for the time being. "It's about augmenting the process rather than replacing it," he says.

Mark Tungate, author and editorial director of the sector's Epica Awards, agrees. AI-CD ß's mint-eating dog ad is "not going to win an Epica Award any time soon," he says.

AI still lacks the human touch that can lead to tear-jerking ads like the Epica Grand Prix-winning English for Beginners, Tungate says.

This could just be a matter of time, though, points out Krupali Cescau, head of planning at Amplify. AI has been able to break into fields such as music and art, which used to be the domain of humans alone. 

"A couple of years ago we would have said it wouldn't be able to produce art or music like a human, but we were wrong," Cescau says.

Even Tungate admits: "I have to say that over the years I've met quite a few artificially intelligent advertising people, so perhaps this is simply an idea whose time has come. And if the machines won't cooperate, well, we can always pull the plug out."

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About Jason Deign @DeigninSpain

Jason Deign is a Barcelona-based business writer, journalist and author.