Why it’s time for a reality check on AI

Why it’s time for a reality check on AI

The marketing and creative world is no stranger to coming to grips with new tools that will ‘help’ us do our jobs better.

'Evolve or die' has long been the truth for our industry when it comes to showcasing the shiny new social listening, audience segmentation, or digital tools that are part of our agency tech stacks.

AI is – and should be – no different. A great new tool to make us more efficient and think differently about the work that we produce.

But we’ve somehow been swept up into an AI storm of fear-mongering over it stealing our jobs and also, in some cases, giving into ‘AI for AI’s sake’ campaigns and stunts.

Enough is enough. We need to get back to remembering what it is that makes creativity and marketing actually work: emotion.

Fragile Beauty

The V&A’s current exhibition, “Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection”, gives us a perfect example of this. 

The exhibition has literally hundreds of ‘stop you in your tracks’ original photographs of stunning fashion and celebrity portraits, harrowing historical moments like 9/11 and behind the scenes at parties full of sex and drugs. It’s an assault on the senses inspiring awe, shock, and sadness in a short period of time.

In perhaps a genius move from the curators, the exhibition takes you on an emotional rollercoaster before ending with one very visually pleasing and symmetrical image of a pink tree. There’s nothing special about it, it’s just nice to look at. That pink tree is AI-generated.

The rest of the photographs in the exhibition were powerful in a way that AI tree could not be – because they were real. You looked at the images, and the experience of the people in them jumped at you from the frame – the depth of your response was intrinsically linked to an appreciation that this actually happened to them. True to the name of the exhibition and Elton’s vision, you felt the fragility of the real-life subjects – and then left wondering about the fragility of real photography with AI looming.

The Power of Reality

Don’t get me wrong – AI has its time and place in creativity. It’s immensely helpful for aiding brainstorming, explaining to clients what we’re trying to achieve in an image vs winning them over with a concept they have to imagine, and it helps us paint a picture when it’s not physically possible.

But to the earlier point on ‘AI for AI’s sake’, it’s time that we moved on from being able to say ‘isn’t it cool, we used AI’ to treating it like the tool it is in our arsenal.

We’ve had our fun. Now let’s remember what our jobs are – to inspire emotion and draw people to a certain conclusion in a real and meaningful way.

Can AI aid that? 

Absolutely – look at Nvidia’s endangered species campaign that used AI to recreate and animate images of endangered species. Nvidia leaned into the fact that the AI images weren’t perfect because images of these species are so rare that there wasn’t enough data to recreate them, highlighting the need to protect them.

But what could have been even more powerful was juxtaposing the AI image next to a real image to inspire an emotional reaction by seeing that this is actually a real-life creature today vs what might become a storybook representation of them in a few years.

The AI Reality Check

As a call to action for the creative and marketing industry, next time you’re considering using AI, just give it the reality check. 

Why is AI the right tool for the job? Will it inspire emotion? Should it be used as an augmentation rather than the main execution?

We’re all still human at the end of the day – when we’re making buying decisions, we want to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, living a certain life, or doing our job in a certain way.

That’s a lot easier when you’re looking at a real-life human doing exactly that.

Lead image: iStock/mesh cube

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