Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Running an Agency in the Age of AI

Some say the future may belong to AI, but for Atiya Zaidi, the future is about being human.
Published 18 May, 2023 03:55pm

Bill Gates considers the emergence of AI bots like ChatGPT as significant as the invention of the internet. Every day, millions of people are experimenting with and learning about AI. Today, AI can write poetry and songs in Urdu, make art, pass a law exam and may even make doctors irrelevant.

What chances do advertising agencies have in the face of this? Let’s start by parking the ‘Will AI take my job?’ question for a second, and look instead at who and why will use technologies like ChatGPT and Bard.

They will use AI to find easy answers; the done before (that is the nature of AI – it learns from what has been done before), and they will use it to do the mundane and the mediocre.

AI cannot create, but it can curate – and it is important to understand the difference. I don’t proclaim to be an expert in AI (who can, when it was released less than two quarters ago), nor am I suggesting it will not change the status quo – because it will do exactly that.

So, what is the future of advertising when an algorithm knows your buying preferences and needs, and will automatically place those items in your basket? In my opinion, the future of advertising in the age of robots is very much human. Call this my silly dream, until it becomes a goal. The dream of a human agency. And here in bullet points is what my dream (and work in progress) agency looks like. May these proverbial bullets hit home. Ameen.

1. A human agency is a place where we put the humanity of our clients and teams above profits and pandering for the next project.
A place where clients and agencies are not ashamed to ask for help in selling their work to all stakeholders; rather than pretend, they know and can do it all. Where teams know it is okay to make mistakes, to learn from them and make different mistakes. To err is to be human, to learn from one’s mistakes is divine.

2. A place where there is no war between clients and agencies, and collaboration is more than a buzzword.
Greg Hahn, the co-founder of Mischief @ No fixed Address, famously said that “We tell clients, we’re not a ‘tada’ agency where we come and here’s the answer. We’re more of an ‘aha’ agency. We bring them along the way. And we never do anything just for the sake of doing something out there. It always is backed by really strong strategy.” In the human agency, we understand that there is a process of creation and creation is messy, chaotic, cathartic and, most of all, it is collaborative. We leave the designation and the weight of those expectations at the door and interact with the other humans.

3. A four-day week?
Globally, agencies and companies are opting for the four-day work week. As a result, by ensuring that humans have time to be themselves rather than machines, they are showing success in team retention, quality of work and revenue growth.

4. Bravery is not good to have, it is a must-have.
When AI is churning out mediocre and done before work, then bravery in creativity is not a choice, it is a must. A good way to start is to check what AI is suggesting with your brief and then make sure you don’t do that. Use AI to improve the work and thinking; don’t use it to do the work and thinking.

5. There are no empty statements, only empty offices.
Every agency starts with: “Let’s get a cool place so clients are impressed with our creative space.” Well, the pandemic has taught a much-needed lesson. Spaces do not make you creative. Being creative makes you creative. Stephen King wrote his first bestseller Carrie in a laundry room. Like AI churning out mediocre work, cool spaces are just that. They have nothing to do with the work. Humans are allowed to work anywhere. Proof of concept: I work from my dining table. I haven’t written a bestseller yet, but hey, I made you read this didn’t I?

6. The value created by humans will go up.
This will be the difference between handmade and factory-made. Yes, more people will have access to AI-generated creativity and that is great for enterprises that only want to survive, but it takes human creativity to edit, improve and update the AI version for enterprises that want to thrive. Millions of small and medium businesses rely on Canva-generated designs for their marketing, but to scale they will need to have their messaging/appearance customised.

7. We will only do insightful and meaningful work.
Work that does more than tick the boxes. Basic briefs will not even reach the agency as they can be handled by AI. I asked ChatGPT to write an ad for Shan Foods aimed at doctors and this is what it came back with after refining the search many times:

Attention Doctors!

Are you tired of prescribing the same bland diets to your patients over and over again? Do you want to provide your patients with delicious and healthy meal options? Look no further than Shan Foods!

At Shan Foods, we specialise in creating a variety of spice mixes and ready-to-cook meals that are both flavourful and nutritious. Our products are made with the highest quality ingredients and are perfect for busy individuals who want to eat healthy without sacrificing taste.

As a doctor, you know the importance of a healthy diet for your patients’ well-being. Our products are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients, making it easier for your patients to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Plus, with our easy-to-use spice mixes and ready-to-cook meals, your patients can enjoy restaurant-quality food from the comfort of their own homes.

So why not recommend Shan Foods to your patients today? With our delicious and healthy meal options, you can help your patients achieve their health goals and improve their overall quality of life. Order now and give your patients the gift of delicious, healthy eating!

Yes, the robot wrote the above. But it was humans who identified the insight that 77% of female doctors in Pakistan do not practice medicine because of kitchen duties, a fact that lead to the development of Shan’s ‘Oath for Her’ Campaign which won a Crystal Award at Mad Stars. Only the complex and the worthy can be termed as work.

8. The human agency will be a coach.
Rich Silverstein of Goodby & Silverstein said that an agency sometimes needs to be a therapist to its clients. In a human agency, this will be the case all the time. Rather than only talking about brand objectives, the briefs will question the individual’s objectives as well. “As marketing director, what are you struggling with at your workplace? How can the agency help you succeed in your career? What are your fears and dreams?” Including such questions will only be possible when the human fragility of a client is not a dreaded question. Asking clients to believe in themselves and that we are all in this together, will go from pandering to partnering in its purest and messiest human form. The same goes for the agency team. We will not consider vulnerability to be a sign of weakness. Rather a sign of strength that one can acknowledge one’s ignorance and the desire to learn rather than pretending to be omniscient and refusing to unlearn.

Now let’s come back to the ‘Will AI take my job?’ question. The answer is yes. It will take your current job because it will be better at it than you are. And you will figure out your next job which AI will never be able to – to be human.

Atiya Zaidi is MD & ECD, BBDO Pakistan and co-Founder, Shero Space. The views in this article are her own and do not reflect the views of any organisation.