How Generative AI Is Already Changing How Creatives Do Their Jobs

Agencies have incorporated ChatGPT and image generators into workflows

In need of a social teaser video to gin up excitement for a Super Bowl ad, Max Eastman, creative director at Mekanism, tapped into some of the hype around ChatGPT with an AI-generated script for an Alaska Airlines commercial.

While the somewhat prosaic result left much to be desired, it did show the use of such tech to lay the groundwork for an idea.

“The output we got was just so hilariously formulaic and slightly inhuman,” Eastman said. “If you are utilizing it with human interaction as a key component, you could get some solid output, but if you left AI to its own devices, people would be able to tell.”

Worries have abounded about a new wave of generative AI tools, such as text and image generators replacing creative jobs. But so far, they’ve proven more of a handy—if mildly dull—assistant than an all-knowing supercomputer.

Many creatives report spending time almost daily with image generators like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion, trying to put pixels to an image in their head. Others will break a staring contest with a blank page by way of a ChatGPT prompt that yields some bare-bones text. The ideas aren’t revolutionary, but they get the ball rolling.

“If you’re stuck, for instance, with headline writing, you can prompt it and maybe get out of your writer’s block,” Eastman said. “It’s also a nice thought starter generator, you can input some creative strategy in there and it can kick you off on some pretty baseline executions. But it only really gets you maybe 30 or 40% of the way there,” he added.

While brands that traffic to higher-end creative are cautious about jumping into AI-generated ads, tools derived from the latest advances in generative AI seem to be catching on fast as a means of communication and ideation within creative departments. 

“Right now, almost every brief—digitally focused, especially—has ChatGPT or Stable Diffusion or Dall-E 2 in it to some capacity,” said Marc Gowland, head of technology at Deutsch LA. “It has become a driving force in new creative ideas.”

Around 36% of the 1,000 creatives that visual editing platform PicsArt surveyed in a recent report said they had used generative AI in the course of their work. The most common applications included image generation and background or object removal, copywriting, image enhancement and text-to-speech.

AI as a riffing partner

Picsart is one of the many professional creative platforms working to integrate new AI tools into its suite of editing tools. Oli Mival, the company’s head of research and insight, said it is pitching enterprise clients on the tech by framing AI as a creative collaborator.

“We talk about it very much internally as a partnership,” Mival said. “With great partnerships—Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Roy and Walt Disney—you basically have the doer—the execution person who can make the thing happen—and the visionary.”

What elevates AI beyond the realm of most creative tools is its ability to put a new spin on an idea. “There’s an old quote that to have a good idea, you have a hundred bad ones, and that’s true, but there is also a serendipity of direction needed,” Mival said.

Emily Wengert, executive creative director at Huge, said that the ability to riff on a concept is part of what makes AI so useful for her team. “What’s interesting about a tool like Midjourney is that it has a freedom of association that humans just don’t have. It can suddenly take something to a whole new place that you weren’t thinking of,” she said.

Wengert said most of the 30 members of the experience innovation team she leads at the agency interact with creative AI tools in some way almost every day. “They’re bouncing ideas off of them, so to speak,” she said.

AI to Communicate

The team at Huge increasingly uses image generation programs to throw together a sketch of a visual concept for clients or another department. Huge also has a team of developers who create bespoke AI tools for internal use, like a widget that detects and rewrites corporate jargon built around OpenAI’s GPT-3.

Deutsch LA is also using ChatGPT to make internal communications read more clearly. “We’ve been using it quite a bit to help refine and improve creative decks and creative briefs,” Gowland said. “So really looking at either complex paragraphs and bullets and saying, ‘Explain this to me, like I’m talking to my parents or like I’m going to explain this to a five-year-old.’”

As AI tools have evolved to become more sophisticated, however, the tone of the ideas they produce has also shifted. Results like the AI-generated Alaska Airlines ad show how much language AI has evolved since Adweek used GPT-2 to create often-surreally nonsensical Super Bowl scripts in 2019 and how the nature of the inspiration it gives has shifted from the absurd to the more run-of-the-mill.

“The random nature of it in the past felt like it had its own personality, like it was this kind of odd creature, whereas now it’s just like an amalgamation of everyone,” Eastman said. “It’s almost too sophisticated, where it gives you exactly what you need versus like being its own entity.”

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