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Can an AI-Written Commercial Threaten Creativity?

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The first AI-authored automotive ad has arrived. In a riveting panel, the Lexus-led creative team outlined their process and revealed if AI is coming for the jobs of creatives.

“We’re all quite vain as human beings, and we’d like to think, ‘oh, we have creativity; the machines? They’re not going to have that,” acclaimed director Kevin MacDonald shared during “Man v. Machine: Using AI in the Creativity Industry.” He had the opportunity to rethink that assertion in conjunction with Lexus, as they set out to produce the first advertisement written by AI.

Alongside collaborators from Lexus, IBM, The & Partnership London, and AI company Visual Voice, MacDonald further described what it felt like to be guided by a machine. “It was a really interesting experience for me as a filmmaker,” he admitted, and a surprising one as well. “We were all taken aback by what came out. The script is about a machine that wants to come alive. There’s something so spooky about that!”

“It’s Not Man versus Machine, It’s Man and Machine”

Lexus’s Michael Tripp made sure to delineate this difference in philosophy early on. Lexus has already employed AI technology to increase efficiency, and to aggregate data for key decision making. The opportunity to make an ad with AI technology was, and remains, an experiment—albeit one that intrigued all members of the team.

One of the most interesting exchanges on the panel came when discussing what to do with the aggregated information, as well as what informs it. While many have been made to believe that AI is a threat to their work, the point was repeatedly made: it supplements human work, it can guide it…but, as Visual Voice’s Will Nutbrown pointed out, we’re also allowed to disagree with it. Perhaps one day artificial intelligence will receive the inputs to be able to make more sophisticated decisions. But until then, it’s going to need us.

Creativity’s Human Elements

The panel largely agreed that creativity is more of a discipline than we often let on. There is routine to it, and as MacDonald speculated, “Most creativity is probably programmable.” However, the team also agreed that there are pieces of the creative process that technology has yet to replicate. T&P’s Dave Bedwood relayed the necessity of a subconscious to allow creative ideas to incubate and cross-pollinate with new information, sharing stories of how Paul McCartney and Thomas Edison used these uniquely human processes to their benefit. “The world doesn’t afford us much of this now, unfortunately,” he lamented.

The essential nature of these human qualities to the creative process affirmed IBM’s Reece Medway, who said, “The only limit you’ve got is your imagination, AI is there to augment and feed into that imagination. For that reason, for the time being, “creativity and AI will go hand in hand in the coming years.”

The Grand Debut

And as for the final product, the team is proud—if at times confused by—what they created with the help of AI technology. The finished ad tells the story of a car that sets out to live its own life and eventually escapes the fate of a crash test, to the relief of its chief designer. While there are narrative leaps that take place (“much of it doesn’t make sense,” admitted Tripp), the AI transformed its considerable inputs into an oddly emotional ad. And the AI truly did do this; the team revealed that while they “expected that the AI would come back with nonsense, it came back with enough that [we] let it finish.”

Are more ads like this on the horizon? While no plans are in place to continue this campaign with additional AI-assisted ads, know that the ideas are there. Lexus’s experiment with AI advertisement scripted proved that while this technology can make the work of crafting copy easier, we need not worry about it coming for our jobs just yet. Medway put it well when he placed AI in its proper current context: it gives creative teams the option to “put smart to work. Let the creatives be creative. AI is a tool that keeps them from having to search for data. Those serendipitous moments? That’s what we want them to focus on.”

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