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From memorable meme to boring trope, I hope the AI sandwich wars are over

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

June 19, 2023 | 7 min read

It was the fifth ChatGPT AI ad pitch from a fast food company that forced a ‘This has to end’ out of me this week. Days out from McDonald’s execution, the trend had been done to death.

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AI billboard bonanza

I need to take some responsibility here. At the beginning of this week, I was fully behind the McDonald’s and Burger King's back and forth. They were a bit of fun during a bit of a pre-Cannes Lions creative drought. Plus we were generating 10s of thousands of page impressions and they had clearly struck a chord. We like when that happens.

That’s when we started to pay attention. Were they good ads? Well, System1 Group’s Jon Evan penned an opinion piece explaining that.

It was a fine piece of trendjacking, and later newsjacking from Burger King. And that should have been that.

Then Tuesday came around and Saatchi & Saatchi had jammed in their client Subway with a photoshop of a third billboard on the site.

The agency’s creative boss Franki Goodwin says of their decision to take part: “while we try not to get too caught up in hype trends, we couldn’t resist getting in on this conversation.”

Now we had a cheeky bit of social fodder whipped up in the morning, and causing a bit of head-scratching come lunchtime. The Burger King ad likely came about in similar circumstances too.

Images circulated online, and more and more brands remixed the copy, allegedly inserting their own endorsements from the open-source AI.

With so many conversations about AI rejuvenating creativity, we had three fast food giants all running basically the same ‘insert-your-ad-here’ bog-standard template. It wasn’t AI that turned the copy into a buzzy meme.

That being said, I still wasn’t totally exhausted from tracking these interactions in culture.

I then logged on to Twitter and saw I had been tagged in a post with Kevin Hart. The comedian. We had a new entrant in the 2023 sandwich wars. He owns a vegan restaurant in LA and they’ve got wind of the story. Yes, that’s right, a fourth billboard.

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By this point, I’m starting to seriously regret my decisions at the start of the week. I hope no one has the ‘great’ idea of starting a live blog to monitor this situation. I felt in some way responsible for encouraging the sandwich violence which followed. What was initially fun, was now boring.

Earlier this year, I wrote about billboards that don’t actually exist, coining them ‘simulated-out-of-home’ activations. In my mind, they are fantastical imagined outdoor executions that blur the lines between fact and fiction. From one existing bus installation, a series of meme-ads were spawned giving not a penny to outdoor media owners.

Anyway, now Taco Bell and Future Farm have both joined in the shenanigans. And I’ve no more energy to write so I’ll leave on this question I posed to ChatGPT.

“Why are AI ads now so boring?”

It listed a lack of creativity, limited emotional appeal, over-reliance on data, a potential absence of ethics and its habit of taking the wrong lessons from the humans feeding it.

Amy Houston is a senior reporter at The Drum covering creative news. Like what she has to say? Check out the Ad of the Day section and subscribe to her weekly newsletter.

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