Unless creatives and planners upskill and upgrade, AI will take away their jobs

Having once believed creativity to be the domain of humans alone, Tobias Wilson now feels we might one day soon reach a moment clients won’t have a choice but to replace underperforming people with machines – unless those working in the industry take action now

Is your creative department safe from artificial intelligence?

Now that’s a sentence nobody working in the marketing industry ever wants to see in their advertising copy. But it does make a very pertinent point in that today, creative as we know it is not safe from technology. It’s going to have to change, innovate and reshape itself.

While there will still be a human element in the process, creativity in its current form is on marketing’s endangered list.

If you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s long-touted 10,000 hour theory, it’s not just talent that allows someone to be incredible at what they do – it’s situational. It’s Bill Gates having unlimited access to one of the most advanced computer labs in the US in seventh grade. It’s The Beatles playing 270 gigs in Germany over the course of 18 months before they became famous.  

Sure, talent is all fine and dandy. But it’s a whole lot of time practicing and learning that provides the not-so-secret sauce – and AI is far better at it than you.

This brings two key areas into question: strategy and creative.

With the former, a planner’s role is to sift through as much information as possible and find opportunities for brands to win. They then must translate this to the rest of the team so the idea can be brought to life. Simple right? It’s not.

Replicable by AI? Absolutely. Let’s take AlphaGo Zero, an AI-powered computer program that self-taught itself how to play chess – one of the most strategic games in the world.

AlphaZero more than just mastered the game, it attained new heights in ways considered inconceivable in a number of days by repeatedly playing itself and learning from each game. Deliberate practice on steroids. So, with that in mind, surely an AI planner or at least a supporting tool isn’t that much of a stretch to see on the horizon?

Now, let’s take a look at creative. I’ll admit, there was a time where I would confidently dismiss anyone who said that creative could be replicated by an algorithm. Sadly, this is not the case anymore.  

The first chink in my armour was brought about by McCann Japan which, in 2015, created its own AI creative director – aptly named AI-CDIn short, AI-CD went up against their top human CD and only marginally lost. That was two years ago and that’s terrifying.

Second was IBM Watson’s trailer that it created for the movie, Morgan (also about AI, creepily).

This one blew me away as it really broke down the creative process and followed it through from brief and insight to execution. Territory usually untouchable for AI, as it’s usually used to crunch the numbers, then hand over the execution to humans, like AI-CD did.

There are plenty of other examples of AI being used strategically and creatively, but these few were the ones that really made me wake up about creative being the last bastion of humanity. For me, these disprove the notion that creativity is at zero-risk of being handled, stolen or replaced by technology.

So where do we go from here? Should planners and CD’s around the globe start polishing their CVs with a feeling of impending doom looming over them? I don’t think so.

But I believe they should pull up their socks and start doing something with the vast amounts of data and insights their clients are sitting on and make sure that when AI comes knocking that they’re better than AI-CD 2.0 or Planner 1.0, because clients won’t have a choice but to replace them if they’re not.

Tobias Wilson is chief executive officer of APD Singapore and chairman of the IAB Singapore, and he will be among the speakers at the inaugural Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit at the Novotel (Clarke Quay) in Singapore on April 16 – where he will be on a panel discussing AI


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