Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Myths, Magic and Machines

Umair Saeed on what will happen to advertising in the age of Gen AI.
Published 16 Jan, 2024 04:51pm

The world once dreamt that the internet would weave a tapestry of knowledge and enlightenment, uniting everyone in an endless quest for wisdom. Yet, the reality is that the web’s threads are woven with both brilliance and banality. It is a realm where cat videos dance alongside educational treasure troves and where echo chambers amplify prejudice as much as understanding. The web fulfilled the dream of global connectivity, but its fabric is rich with both the golden threads of enlightenment and the darker strands of disinformation and distraction. It is, in fact, a testament to the duality of the human spirit, offering us the tools to ascend to wisdom or descend into shallowness. The internet revolutionised our industry, ushering it into precision and personalisation, along with a great deal of stupidity and FOMO. Nevertheless, there is no denying the impact of the internet on advertising over the past 25 years.

And now the world is dreaming again.

Ever since ChatGPT came out in late 2022, Generative AI has dominated the news headlines, boardrooms, big tech, advertising – and our entire species so to say. Gen AI is changing everything and is being hailed as the mythical quill of the digital age, a magician’s wand conjuring art, knowledge and solutions. There is, in fact, a collective yearning for AI to be the ultimate muse, painting vivid masterpieces, composing soul-stirring symphonies and crafting prose that captivates hearts.

The past year has seen massive developments in this field, with Adobe’s Sensei, Descript, Synthesia and Musavir, to name a few. Our hope is that Gen AI will be the oracle that unravels mysteries, the sage that deciphers ancient texts and the scientist that pioneers new frontiers. Our dreams imbue AI with the power to transcend human limitations, filling our lives with marvels and making the impossible a reality. In this dream, Gen AI becomes a timeless collaborator, co-creating our grandest visions. And yet, some of us wonder whether we are about to ascend as a species or descend to our lowest point in history.

This year, I had the privilege of attending over a dozen keynotes and panel discussions on the subject both in and outside Pakistan. If I were to summarise the majority of these conversations, it would be enough to quote what economist Richard Baldwin said at the World Economic Forum’s Growth Summit in 2022: “It’s not AI that is going to take your job, but someone who knows how to use AI might.”

But then there is Alex Brunori, a globally celebrated creative veteran, a digital trailblazer and a marketing maverick. Coming from an agency background, he was last spotted orchestrating Google’s MENA creative works. At MADsemble 2023 in Karachi, Brunori said that Gen AI would not only disrupt but potentially oust human creatives: “Let’s face it, most of us are merely mediocre. In any field, it’s the rare few who weave true magic, and Gen AI is fast closing in on surpassing even them.”

And he left us with a question: “Can humans be as creative as machines?”

Like everyone else in the room, I didn’t have an answer. Yet, here I am on my quest for enlightenment, deftly dancing with two more questions.

1. Will Gen AI replace human creativity within ad agencies? According to Bard: “AI will not replace human creativity; instead, it will enhance it.” ChatGPT agrees: “Humans will collaborate with AI-powered tools that can process heaps of data and suggest compelling visuals, headlines, or even entire concepts based on what resonates most with the target audience.” Call me old-fashioned – but this does not exactly sound like “collaboration” but rather a symbiotic relationship, where Gen AI does all the work for creative professionals with little or no reliance on the human intuition and emotional understanding we traditionally depend on to craft impactful advertising. While most AI platforms can handle repetitive tasks, data crunching, and personalisation at scale, there are also advanced Gen AI tools that even in their infancy, can deliver on ideation, storytelling and design based on that data. What is stopping the machines from producing ad campaigns that are more innovative, relevant, and emotionally resonant? Why would we need the army of creatives most agencies are currently employing?

2. Are we about to enter an era where all advertising will be data-driven? While data is a fundamental component of modern advertising, the myth that all advertising will be purely data-driven oversimplifies the complexities of consumer behaviour and emotional engagement. Data-driven advertising emphasises metrics, but it may not always capture the nuances of brand perception, cultural trends or the emotional impact of an ad and although some products or services rely heavily on data, others require creative storytelling, emotional connection and cultural relevance. Effective advertising often strikes a balance between data-driven strategies and creative content that resonates with audiences on a deeper level. But Gen AI is all set to change all this.

Gen AI’s role in advertising is not just about data collection; it is also about data interpretation. Both Publicis and WPP are testing custom-built tools that can analyse vast data sets, predict consumer preferences and even shape future trends. This will help advertisers create more personalised, relevant and effective campaigns, automated right down to the delivery of the message. I do think it will cross the chasm in the adoption curve much faster than any of its predecessors and soon achieve mainstream adoption. But I also feel it will create new problems for humans to solve – and only if we are smarter than the machines. The global decline in human intelligence suggests otherwise!

Part of me is actually relieved. We are struggling with getting quality work out of the younger lot and Gen AI is perhaps just what we need. Most Gen Zers in the workforce do not want to do anything wholeheartedly, lack persistence and have no appetite for putting in the blood, sweat and tears required to achieve greatness. At the same time, we cannot simply peer into the future of advertising with the same inherent optimism that accompanied the revolutionary technologies of the past. Remember, Gen AI gets smarter on its own. It is unlike anything we have experienced before and we should tread carefully by developing legislation around its use before it hits mass institutional adoption.

Just as the internet did not bring wisdom and enlightenment, yet still offered a vast platform for diverse human behaviours, the future of advertising through Gen AI will ultimately be shaped by us. Only time will tell whether the next 25 years will be marked by the fusion of human creativity and AI’s analytical prowess or dominated by machine creativity. But I will leave you with my bold predictions nonetheless.

• Copywriting will fade; storytelling will endure.

• Graphic designers will dwindle; art directors will remain vital.

• The role of editors and animators will cede to autonomous tech and become hobbies we indulge in at our leisure instead.

• Account management teams will be lean, but will remain in order to give a human face to agency relationships.

• Media planners and buyers will become one-person teams with a host of tools to wield.

•Communications strategy folk will remain but in smaller numbers.

• PR, activations and OOH teams will see massive automation and have smaller teams.

• Connected professions (photography, sound and video production, research) will bow to tech.

• Departments like administration, HR and finance will be largely replaced by tech.

• IT services and support teams will be focused on maintaining tech equipment rather than teaching users how to clean their desktops or update their drivers.

• Aurora articles will be written by, and for a change also credited to, different proprietary Gen AI tools.

Umair Saeed is COO, Blitz Advertising.