Giving Artificial Intelligence Creative License Leads to Uninspired Advertising

It loses an integral human element

Brandweek will feature live discussions with marketing pros at ULTA Beauty, Converse, UPS and more. Meet us in Miami Sept. 11–14 to boost your business and elevate your brand.

It seems robots can now create artwork and write symphonies. Last year, Christie’s sold a painting created by artificial intelligence for $432,000.

But can robot-made or data-driven art, literature or music really stir the soul?

I’ve been a judge at various creative awards shows over the years. In this time on awards juries, I have seen lots of innovative technology and plenty of so-called “data-driven” entries. But despite their inventiveness and slickness, most of them leave me cold.

When the focus is purely on tech and there’s little evidence of human creativity alongside this, there’s no spark, warmth or humor. It all seems a little soulless.

You lose something important when artificial intelligence takes the place of human intelligence entirely.

To craft great work, we still need humanity to be the driving force. There is, of course, a massive role for technology and data, and we should absolutely be utilizing its power, but it’s the human element that enables people to connect with a piece of work emotionally and get excited about it. You lose something important when artificial intelligence takes the place of human intelligence entirely, when imperfections are eradicated and opportunities for spontaneity are taken out of the process.

In 1996, I was making a TV ad for Tango, and the shoot overran and was forced to use a handheld camera for the final scene of the spot. In the ad, a man is trying to hide his secret passion for Apple-flavored Tango, and the sudden switch to a gritty handheld effect in the final scene actually made the film stronger. Mistakes (or happy accidents) like these can elevate your creation. And they can’t be foreseen by an algorithm.

Creativity is also sparked by bouncing ideas off the people around you, from creative partners and planners to cast and crew. Of course, having too many contributors can hinder as much as it can help, but opening up your project to outside views can take a piece of work from good to great, with diverse perspectives honing the thinking into something with a more universal, human connection—and removing limits and barriers to that all-important connection.

Having other types of limitations, such as a tight budget or deadline, also focuses the mind and can help get your brain thinking laterally. The tension between what you want to achieve and the restrictions that have been imposed upon you adds fuel to the creative fire. This adrenaline or passion can breed moments of inspiration.

When it comes to craft, what we should all be striving for is a connection with the audience. The audience should feel that you know them and can relate to them in a human way and not just because you’ve seen what they bought before. The starting point should be about what’s going on inside you as a human being. What makes you happy or anxious? What pisses you off? What makes you laugh? Data analytics can, of course, be added to the mix to supercharge effectiveness.

A slick campaign or commercial is like a beautiful magazine cover: It can appeal to an audience’s aesthetic sensibilities and get them to look, but what will make people pick up the magazine and buy it? For this, you need to be communicating more than functionality, relevance or convenience.

True craft is about connection. Humans are still driven by emotions and instinctive desires, and we understand too little about the human brain and mind to predict behaviors with any certainty, as recent surprises at political elections prove only too well.

Craft and the creative process are also frequently what make people want a job in the advertising industry. There are so many professionals in other industries who are dissatisfied with their jobs and live for the weekend or their next holiday. As a creative, I live to go to work every day, to have ideas, to invent and craft things. All human beings should get to do that every day. Our industry shouldn’t be handing over creativity—the most enjoyable and satisfying part of our jobs—to robots. We should be simply using their influence to heighten our work for our audience.

There are three paintings (made by humans) in my house that I’ve had for years. Every time I look at them, they make me happy. True craft and inspired creativity have the power to give you endless joy, whether you are the creator or the audience. Tech is a massively powerful enhancer, but it’s no substitute for humanity.

Adweek magazine cover
Click for more from this issue

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.