In March 2017, Mariano Bosaz, global senior digital director of Coca Cola, made an earth-shattering announcement. For the first time, the Fortune 500 company would be trialling artificial intelligence (AI) robots for content creation, rather than relying on human marketing teams.
Bosaz was very keen to stress that this was just an experiment, stating: “We brief creative agencies and then they come up with stories that they audio-visualise, and then we have 30 seconds, or maybe longer. In content, what I want to start experimenting with is automated narratives.”
For a brand that sees 60 billion of its products consumed daily, the influence of Coca Cola is immeasurable. They may be able to justify their need for automation with their colossal consumer demand, but should smaller brands follow suit?
Perhaps the best metaphor for the true power of AI was Rob McGowan’s “useless projects” talk at Search Leeds in June 2018. He discussed the first documented human use of tools, stating that, by crafting weapons out of rocks, the first humans activated an area of the brain that was essential for language. By simply banging a few rocks together, we, essentially, created society. We are able to do things with smartphones today that we never thought possible, so what is to stop this happening with AI?
AI: relying on human input
However, McGowan’s talk did also deliberate over the definition of creativity itself, for which, amongst others, the term “novel” was used repeatedly. Art is revolution or plagiarism, so they say, but where AI bots falter is their reliance on human input to produce outcomes.
He cited a wonderful example of a poem created entirely by AI: humans fed the machine the first and the final lines of the poem: “I don’t like it, he said” and “come here in five minutes”, plus the parameters of poetic rhythm. What resulted was a mish-mash of sentences which, in isolation, made sense, but in no way resembled a poem. The moral of the story? AI can only rely on the data we give it, whereas humans may come up with new concepts and discuss ideas with one another.
The case for automation
While McGowan’s examples illustrated some of the nonsensical, and indeed, highly amusing outcomes (Botnik’s AI Harry Potter story is a true crowd-pleaser), there is definitely a market for AI. Indeed, without some of the technology we take for granted, from auto-suggest to predictive text, our modern day lives would be far more manual.
One perhaps frightening statistic is that an electronic circuit “thinks” 1 million times faster than we do, and could generate 20,000 years’ worth of research in a week. If machines could make the famous “10,000 mistakes” that Thomas Edison famously alluded to, we could ultimately reduce costs, eliminate waste and even save lives.
The Coca Cola project would see bots “choosing music, updating social media and even writing scripts”. At this stage, given the aforementioned examples, it’s probably too early for AI to do the latter, but we believe that AI should be a tool in the marketer’s arsenal, not an all-out replacement.
Using human creativity and AI together
Both humans and bots can analyse years of historical data to better understand their target markets. However, only humans can share ideas and create a personalised experience that befits the brand. An agency, for example, will be made up of human teams with expertise in different fields, from research to web development and content creation.
These teams work together to create a holistic impression of a brand, giving feedback to the client and developing ideas. Humans can’t rely on years of relationship-building with a bot – only the data and the parameters they give it. So how do we do both? Simple: we use AI to automate tasks such as social media scheduling, while we continue to create the base concepts ourselves.
We should also regularly check in on our automated tasks to ensure the brand message stays consistent. Here’s just another hilarious example of where AI doesn’t quite get it right – this time with motivational posters. As we can see, the downside of AI is that it doesn’t question the data we give it, whereas humans regularly discuss, debate and all-out veto ideas. If we are using machines, we must be vigilant with them!
From science fiction to mind-boggling reality, AI has come a long way, and it truly can be a force for good. We should learn not to fear it, but to use it to continue learning, asking ourselves what kind of data we want to put out there, and how we can improve further.
Perhaps leave the Harry Potter stuff to J.K. Rowling though.
Alice Leary, digital marketing executive, Hydra Creative