Will robots replace the advertising creative?

IMG_5088 (1).jpgBy Charlie Gearside (left), founder, Lunch

Advertising creatives and truck drivers have more in common than you'd think, beyond a penchant for bushy beards (and the odd amphetamine).

Both are jobs that in the next 5 years will be hit by the first waves of automation, or 'Artificial Intelligence', to use the buzzword correctly.

We've long known the truck driver's days are numbered. Thanks to self-driving cars it's not hard to foresee big trucking companies using the same tech in their vehicles, which have the even-easier task of driving in a straight line. They'll replace humans with robots to maximise profits and please shareholders. It's a fait accompli.

For creative professions like graphic designers, art directors and copywriters, the applications of A.I. are much more complicated, but are already showing the first signs of development.

PingGo, a startup up from Scotland, is taking on PR firms by writing press-releases with an algorithm. They ask questions of the user, and cleverly weave the answers into sentences in a professionally-written template.

In the world of graphic design, Tailor Brands , LogoJoy and Withoomph create logos instantly, using browser-based vector graphics software with icon libraries in complex algorithms. These can be then be downloaded for as little as USD$20.

In 2017, taglines are being generated on-the-fly, brand colour-schemes created with complex maths and typographic headlines are set by machine.

Sure, these examples are businesses that service the lower-end of the market. As creatives, it's easy for us write them off. The automated press releases are clunky, the automated logos lack any semblance actual idea and are usually ugly.

"No algorithm will ever match the intuition of a human heart!" we protest.

The thing is, the first generation of these tools are cheap, and they're getting better. The increasingly stingy client might go off the rails and spend $79 on a new logo instead of the six-figure retainer. Stranger things have happened.

The good news is that this storm's a couple of years off, at least. There's plenty of time to stockpile beans and build bunkers.

What's more likely is we'll see automation chip away at the peripheral tasks in our day-to-day.
This will save us time, but will very slowly cut down on the number of creatives required to staff a department.

We might see crowd-sourcing platforms emerging to service the high-end of the market: Taglines written by copywriters at lunch with mini-briefs sent to their inbox.

Creative directors who review concepts from creatives sent from agencies around the world in a special app.

Designers managing teams in The Philippines, presenting work they didn't explicitly create.

I, for one, am excited about the future. More people in more parts of the world will gain access to a high standard of work, and agencies will increase their volume and number of clients in a bid to replace the big-ticket accounts.

In summary, the agency of the next decade has far fewer people, services more, and exists on the internet.

Charlie Gearside is a former art director and founder of Lunch, a copywriting agency for the best writers in the world, who want to earn on their lunch break. 

20 Comments

Copy Desk said:

Cool. But being an ad creative is more than writing taglines and designing logos. You know that, right?

In terms of automation, creating engaging, integrated, single-platform creative solutions to solve business problems is probably one of the hardest things for AI to achieve. The practice of law would be easier. Brain surgery, even.

Minimising the work creatives do and extrapolating that into an industry trend is just not convincing. I understand you have a cool little business of your own, and you're beating the drum for this decentralised, cloud-based workforce thing, but I'm not sure your reasoning is sound. That said, good luck with the business - it's a neat idea.

Meanwhile, we're not truck drivers. We're the ones creating demand for whatever's in that truck, and giving that truck a reason to be on the road, and getting people to buy that kind of truck, and not another truck. We help the driver choose his pants, socks and undies. We influence the snacks he buys, the stations he listens to and his brand of mobile phone. And we do that with human insights and ideas that are new, connecting his needs with the needs of a business. It's still a job that mostly can't happen without humans; especially the 'new/never been done before' aspect.

Decentralisation of labour I can sort of buy; AI I can't. Not yet.

Replace asap said:

Could we get AI to replace you asap please.

General Kurzweil said:

Absolutely it's not there yet. But it'd be an idiot to think we're immune.
Even if it's only taglines or logos, that's still a lot of human jobs that go up in digital flames. How long before you have AI generate the strategy and then humans shape creative to that? Or how about a world of robotic creative directors employed by clients to judge and reshape work done by humans (by that point probably freelance only) to make the work "more effective" based on all the data it can hold and cross reference it against. Two years might be a push though.

It's not there yet, but it's completely conceivable. Start building your AI agency today.

Copy Chip said:

We offer the services of Copy Desk (above), but at 25% of the cost, and with 75% greater brevity.

Robot says said:

The is future coming than you think sooner. :-|

Gilbert said:

I highly recommend people check out those links. I did. I'm not worried.

Copy Desk said:

@Copy Chip

Brevity costs extra.

Nope said:

Anyone who has to write '...In summary' to conclude their own press release desperately needs the assistance of a copywriter.

Long lunch said:

Why would I possibly want to write cheap headlines and tag lines on my lunch break?

Sloppy writer said:

Copy Desk,

'AI' or at least automation / 3rd-world outsourcing has already cost a lot of jobs in our industry if you've ever bothered to pop your head down to studio.

The only people I can't see being replaced so easily are art directors. They have somehow survived every cutback sent their way.

Most are expected to ideate, design, source imagery, source directors, source photographers, source voice over guy, own the deck, cut together mood films, present the work, be a typographer, be an illustrator, be a photographer, oversee edits, grade, online, be a director, learn and remember how to use programs like keynote, sketch, indesign, powerpoint, premier, photoshop, illustrator, word, flash, after effects and somehow craft what they do to a decent level. Copywriters, um, write. Ooh and go to voiceover sessions.

Every skillset I just listed used to have at least one employee per skill who made the company money. Money that helped pay for big creative departments. As you would know, while 'the big idea' wins the business, production or media has always been what has paid our bills.

Once you teach these art monkeys how to write, there's no use for someone who just taps on a keyboard and can't do the other 25 things an art director does.

In the future writers will either skill up and share the load or be replaced by hybrids. There's no excuse to just 'be a writer' and not be able to do at least a portion of the other work involved in bringing an idea to life.

Ben K said:

It's a cute theory, in reality there will be AI that helps us do our jobs better, but only in the same way a calculator lets us do long division in a few seconds. Without the human interpretation of what's valuable, AI is like giving your job to a hyper-intelligent autistic child.

When can they start? said:

AI couldn't possibly write worse scripts than the shite posted on Campaign Brief this past week.

Actually, who needs AI? A Casio calculator watch could write a better script than the Westfield one.

Copy Desk said:

@Sloppy Writer

So copywriters don't come up with concepts. That's news to me. And we don't create the assembly of moving parts and messaging that is an integrated campaign. We don't challenge and influence strategy to make it relevant to real people. We don't create, from the mess in our heads, the stories that ADs bring vision to. We don't write the scripts, to time and budget, read the treatments, select directors, write casting, wardrobe and location briefs, attend shoots. We don't sit in edit suites for days, drinking coffee and eating mentos, contributing hundreds of precise decisions. We don't attend online sessions, final screenings. We don't present concepts, updates or work to clients. We don't run workshops. We don't shape brands by writing guidelines, rationales to sell in work, hype tapes, content plans, and whatever else needs some clear thinking behind it. We don't fight for good ideas, face constant rejection of our work, or experience the white terror of an empty page, day in, day out. Who knew. I'll let my ECD know.

Saying, in your words that "Copywriters, um, write. Ooh and go to voiceover sessions" is like saying all Art Directors do is point and click a mouse.

Saying "there's no excuse to just 'be a writer' and not be able to do at least a portion of the other work involved in bringing an idea to life" demonstrates gross ignorance of what a writer actually does. It's condescending. It makes you sound young and inexperienced.

I would say there's no excuse for such casual disregard of the value of other people's hard work. I would say pay attention. I would say think more. It's good to use your brain.

Typical Client said:

But how do you feedback to A1 that "it's, um, I don't know, I mean I like it but will people get it? It's too vanilla. It should be more like that other campaign someone else did..."

Louis said:

Good chat! Great territory's. Very AI.

JB said:

Hemmingway app and Grammarly have been helping a lot of people improve their writing for a long time. Google just rolled out an AI that understands the negative sentiment and trolling in comment fields like these. We are definitely seeing the start of AI helping improve our lives. Good article, Charlie.

Sloppy writer said:

@Copy Desk.

I must say you are one of the rare ones. You're probably worth your fee.

However, I have possibly as much if not more experience than yourself on the other side of the fence. Writers do a lot less than art directors these days in terms of workload.

You can weasel word it to make your job look far more important than an art directors, but the fact remains.

If an art director were to know how to write (and attend brand workshops etc etc etc as you imply, which they already do), your job is irrelevant.

That was my point.

Not to say what you do doesn't matter, but that you're easily replaceable by someone with the skills to not only create ideas and do all you mentioned, but to also pull them off.

No euphemisms at all there.

Copy Desk said:

@Sloppy Writer

Dude, I was never setting out to make my job look more important than an art director's job. I was just pointing out that writers do more than you give them credit for. You made it adversarial. It's not.

You characterised the task of a writer as just tapping on a keyboard. Sure, that's part of it. Because a writer's stock in trade is words. Just like a lawyer's, or a policymaker's, or screenwriter's, or whatever. It doesn't mean the task is simpler, or less effort just because it doesn't involve pixels, vectors or editing timelines.

As for the suggestion that you have as much or possibly more experience than me, as if that gives your opinion more weight, you have no way of knowing that. It's an assertion based on nothing. It's just a bit of puffery. If you need to do that, fine. But the truth is anyone can have an opinion. An opinion is something assessed on merit, not necessarily credentials. Especially here.

If an art director were to know how to write, my job would not be irrelevant. There would still be writing to be done, and that art director wouldn't be able to write any faster than a specialist. They'd likely be slower, because they'd have less experience. Which means they'd have to spend most or all of their time writing, which would make them a writer. Would they then have made themselves redundant? You tell me.

The thing that advances a business and makes it competitive is the existence of specialists. The splitting of labour into finer and finer specialties allows an individual to become very good at that narrow focus of skills. The generalist versus specialist argument will always hit into this wall. Five generalists with skill sets consisting of five key areas will not be able to compete against five specialists with a complete grasp of each of one of those key areas.

I don't understand your need to knock writers. If they truly were an archaic profession, they would be made redundant. But they haven't been made redundant. I don't understand your need to characterise my description of the function of a writer as employing weasel words. I don't get it. They weren't weasel words; they weren't euphemistic. I don't know why you would suggest my role is irrelevant, by saying that if an AD could write I'd be out of a job. Let me say that if that happened, you'd need two ADs to fulfil the hours of both jobs, and please see my point above.

And I'm not sure where you're working, or what sample size you're basing this on, but in my experience writers do not do a lot less than art directors "these days". How could you even know that? I'm here as late as my AD. Sometimes he stays later to finish putting together a presentation; sometimes I stay later to work on scripts. What's this adversarial thing about? Is there something wrong with working as a team. Have you been burnt by a lazy writer?

Meanwhile, I really don't know why you're so intent on suggesting I'm easily replaceable by a non-writer. I'm not. Writers are not. If they were, there would be no writers. And what do you mean by pull off ads? Do you mean execute them? Do ADs single handedly create advertising? Of course they don't. It takes a team. They're part of a team, as are writers, producers, designers, traffic managers, editors, sound engineers, directors, gaffas, runners, stylists, etc etc. If you want to do it all, go for it. But you'd be a jack of all trades, master of...well, you know the rest.

Go, write. Be an art director who writes. I wish you all the luck in the world.

Referee said:


Copy Desk: 1

Sloppy Writer: 0

Keep it simple said:

I find that the roles of writer and art director come into play more at different stages throughout the creative process. In the concepting stage, ideally, the two minds will work together to come up with ideas. The writer might then go away and focus on articulating those ideas and helping hone strategy, whilst the art director will often work to bring them to life for presentation. The copywriter, being the one closely working with the articulation, will often be the one to present. After that, once the idea is bought by their client, the art director might come into play more whilst the idea is in production, using the various visual skills to develop the work that will go out the door. But like-wise the copywriter will be working on this - to write briefs, make sure things work tonally, if there are actors or VO artists, they'll be working to make sure delivery is right - depending on what your making. If it involves using real people, they'll be devising interview questions and ways to work with them, whilst the art director is making sure things are working aesthetically to the teams original vision through casting, wardrobe and photography, but both will ideally check in with each other to make sure they are on track or doing the best thing for their idea, and so on, and so on, and so on. Ideally. Unless one or the other is shit.

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