BriefGPT is no match for our little sparks of marvellous madness
Ben Worden, head of planning at Wunderman Thompson responds to the news that BBDO is using AI to write better briefs.
I hope I wasn’t the only person whose heart sank just a little when I read The Drum headline announcing that BBDO was ‘ushering in a new paradigm when it comes to drafting creative briefs’ using generative AI models.
It’s an idea that sparks mixed emotions. In many ways, this story should fill creative agency strategists with existential dread. After all, the creative brief is in many ways the focal point for everything we do. I don’t wish to sound like a Luddite or an enemy of progress, but the idea that one of the creative strategist’s core skills could easily be done by a machine sends a ripple of fear down my spine.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time learning the skills and trying to write great briefs that inspire exceptional creativity. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, and sometimes I’ve failed. But I’ve kept trying. Now that a machine can do it, what am I for? Is it time to start considering an alternative career?
Of course, one can argue the positives for the planning community. Writing a brilliant brief is an act that demands time and sacrifice. To paraphrase T.S.Eliot, “if I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter brief”. Could AI help to reduce the time required to get from a client brief to a brilliant creative brief? As I sit here writing this, I have two incomplete creative briefs lurking on my desktop, and I’ve promised the account team that they’ll be ready to go at 9am tomorrow. With the help of AI, I won’t be here until midnight.
And just imagine what I could do with all that time back having fed my requirements into BBDO’s BriefGPT and allowed it to work its magic. Once I’d pinged it onto my creative teams (and they’ve fed it into their generative AI models that develop ideas), I could get on with other important tasks like completing my timesheets (a process that will never, ever be automated, obvs), decluttering my inbox, and updating my CPD records before preparing to leave the office at 5:30 on the dot.
There’s no doubt that generative AI may have a role to play in the development of strategy. As Nicole Granese, chief strategy officer of BBDO NY, rightly points out, models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard have the potential to streamline the research process. Understanding the brand and business, acknowledging the competitor and market context, and taking full account of audience insight is an important, but time-consuming part of the process, and there’s no reason why AI shouldn’t help.
What rings alarm bells for me is the suggestion that generative AI may be able to provide the inspiration for creativity somehow. Let me spell out why.
First: In this business, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Suppose every answer provided by generative AI is an extrapolation from a large data set. In that case, every AI brief is in effect the byproduct of lots of things that have been done before, which is never a strong starting point for creativity. If you don’t believe me, a recent experiment by System 1 proves the point: it tested a campaign entirely created by generative AI, and while the campaign made sense and looked like advertising, the analysis showed that it was a long way behind campaigns created by human intelligence in terms of its ability to stand out and get noticed.
Second: Human curiosity is hard to imitate. The job of a planner is to stay curious, to dig into the data, to keep asking searching questions of it, and to find the most interesting story. While generative AI may be able to provide you with an accurate précis of large amounts of data in a fraction of a second, Human Intelligence is the thing required to tell a great story about it. The planners’ skill is to find the hidden truths in and around the data that shine fresh light on a problem, and nobody does it better.
Third: Great planners always find a way to combine logic and reason with some kind of magical thought or idea that nobody saw coming. While generative AI is very good at logical analysis, it struggles to imitate non-linear or less obvious thinking that lies at the heart of great creative thinking. The only exception to this rule seems to be when generative AI adds weird extra fingers to images, which I think we can all agree isn’t a good thing...
Great strategy is built on the little details and plot twists that are the product of human intelligence, not algorithms or large language models. Great planners always find a way to bring their own spark of madness to the creative brief. These are the things that take a creative brief from being functional and informative to brilliant and inspiring.
As Robin Williams once said: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it!”
For me, these little sparks of madness are the lifeblood of creativity. In planning, if you lose your spark of madness, you might as well leave it to BriefGPT and get on with completing your timesheets.