Creativity in the age of AI

Katie Sadler

When it comes to AI's creative potential, brands have only just scratched the surface says We Are Social's innovation director Tom Ollerton

human creative hero
Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

For Tom Ollerton, trying to predict what’s going to happen in the marketing industry is helping to generate a culture of innovation and a new wave of creativity for content and social campaigns.

As innovation director at creative agency We Are Social, Ollerton helps major brands prepare for what’s coming next so they can be first movers applying AI-driven marketing technology.

Nailing your AI strategy is as simple—and as challenging—as finding “the right data, the right algorithm, and the right talent writing that algorithm,” he says.

Ahead of his headline presentation AI LIVE, we sat down with Ollerton to discuss how AI-driven creativity is changing the face of brand marketing and what brands can look forward to in this new era of AI-led creativity.

AIIA Network (AIIA): Tell me about the relationship between technology and creativity—are they mutually exclusive?

Tom Ollerton (TO): No, absolutely not. We are moving into a new age of creativity, it will be a combination of human insight and machine creativity combined.  

Without any input from humans, machines are starting to produce work that a human couldn’t possibly do on their own. Human insight and machine creativity are currently on different sides of the fence but with the imagination of people and the advancement of technology, these two assets will be brought together.

Up until relatively recently brands, on the whole, developed video content for one audience. But now with smart uses of AI you can deliver personalized versions of that video content to much smaller audiences. Eventually we’ll be able to deliver personalized content to individuals—everyone will see their own version of a TV ad or a YouTube or Facebook video.

It’s a new era of creativity where machines allow us to do work that wasn’t conceivable before.

Brands don’t need to make content for a large group of people; they can just deliver a specific creative to a specific subset of their audience. That’s a real headache because the advertising industry has been based around building one beautiful thing.

In reality we need to think in a 3D kind of way, where we can move in any direction to suit different people. It’s a new era of creativity where machines allow us to do work that wasn’t conceivable before.

AIIA: What is it that excites or inspires you the most about working in the tech innovation space?

TO: A new exciting idea in consumer technology is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever come across—not as exciting as discovering rock and roll music when I was 13, but it’s going in the right direction.

All innovation people are default optimists, so whenever we see a new technology, we see it in the best possible light. We imagine the greatest reaches of its possibilities, and that’s a lovely positive place to exist in.  

Read more: AI is an extension of human potential

The challenge comes when you bring that positivity and optimism to a brand. Not all agencies or clients are optimistic and some might actually be quite scared or pessimistic about the technology. My role is to take that excitement and energy and articulate it in a way that makes sense for our client and work out sensible testers at each opportunity, helping to reduce the fear factor.

AIIA: Can brands use AI to produce quicker and better creative content?

TO: There are lots of different start-ups using AI to improve, augment or speed up different elements of the creative process. This could be research, brief writing, producing a creative idea, building content, and editing video. The last time I looked, there were probably about 250 creative AI businesses out there.  

Artificial intelligence is pretty good at delivering direct call-to-action content.  What it’s not very good at is doing more cerebral content, but that’s absolutely coming.  

creative content hero
Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

AIIA: How do you impress the value of AI on the enterprise organizations that you work with?

TO: It’s about choosing the right artificial intelligence solutions for our clients. For example, Audi, one of our clients, developed an AI-driven car.  A lot of its features are powered by that type of intelligence and it’s our job to tell that story through social. We’re now talking to all of our clients about how we use artificial intelligence to create their content, whether that’s video or the written word.

Some clients want to use AI to produce a high volume of content really quickly.  Other clients are using AI to write briefs for our designers. They then use visual recognition AIs to look at tens of thousands of competitor posts on social and feed back to us what needs to be in our posts.

AI is becoming a catch-all term.  It’s getting pretty close to saying something like using electricity—but if that makes it easier for people to navigate it, great!

If it makes it easier for people to get excited about it and experiment with it, that’s fantastic.  I don’t have a problem with it.  

AIIA: Have you experienced any challenges when implementing AI strategies for brands? What are the most common roadblocks?

TO: What’s frustrating about AI is that you need the right data, the right algorithm, and the right talent writing that algorithm.   

Unless an organization has the right data in the right places, then it doesn’t matter how good your algorithm is: it can’t do the job. There are very few businesses that have an absolute single customer view with all of their data cleaned, unbiased, and all in the same place in such a way that an algorithm can work with it.

The big AI challenge that any brand will have is managing data in an intelligent way.

You can’t set up a great algorithm and then randomly look around for data.

We’re starting to see the emergence of new California-based businesses that are creating AI training data. They use ‘farms’ of people who manually go through coding to train the computer.

Where we get the right data from will be a big trend. If data equals wealth, then there’s so much of that in California and it’s really terrifying.

AIIA: Can you give an example of a recent or current innovation trend that you’re working with and how it’s transforming a client’s business?

TO: I think the biggest innovation we’re currently seeing is voice, everything from Google Assistant right through to Amazon Echo. We recently built the Domino Echo skill. If you say, “Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me,” sure enough your favorite pizza will arrive half an hour later.

The purchase process is being disrupted by voice and that’s just the very start of it.

Unlike supermarket or online shopping, you’re not distracted by 30 or 40 similar brands. We are advising businesses to use media channels like TV, radio, social and print to prompt people to make that order in the home on Alexa there and then. For example, if you say, “Alexa, order me some ketchup,” it’s just going to choose whatever comes at the top of a search engine. Brands are trying to navigate that and it’s going to be a real challenge.

In the future Alexa will move away from being a slave that you bark orders at, to a useful sidekick that you can have a conversation with. Eventually, we will start to have what will resemble an acquaintance-level relationship with the device.

AIIA: What AI marketing innovations are we going to witness in the next three to five years?

TO: The near future is about personalization at scale. We may start to see the end of the big idea—we don’t need one big idea to resonate with everyone, we just need lots of small ideas that resonate with the individual.

In the next 18 months to two years we will see a programmatic social media that automatically generates content for audiences based on the data that those audiences declare within social.

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Beyond that, I think we’re going to start to see the likes of AI-driven influencers. For example, it won’t be real people influencing you to watch particular videos; those characters will be artificially generated and tailored to the individual.  

In five years time we can expect to see realistic emotional intelligence avatars that respond to you emotionally with micro expressions replacing websites. They will be able to read the micro movements in your mouth or your eyes or pigmentation change in your skin and from that will be able to provide customer service.

Branded websites won’t contain dropdown menus, carousels, lists and videos any more; they will just be a face that can understand your emotions. 

Tom Ollerton is innovation director at We Are Social.