- Nominal Michael Dempsey
- economic journalist technology
What comes to your mind when you think of advertising? Don Draper on the TV series Mad Men sipping a cocktail? Or maybe modern people exchange shocking phrases in a converted warehouse?
Well, a lot of creative work these days is not done by humans at all.
When Dixons Carphone wanted to drive shoppers to Black Friday sales, the company turned to artificial intelligence (AI) software and got the winning phrase “Now is the time.”
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Saul Lopes, head of customer marketing at Dixons Carphone, believes that phrase worked because it doesn’t contain the phrase “Black Friday.”
Its human writers have produced dozens of potentially effective sentences, but they all mentioned Black Friday. It was technology that broke this chain of ideas.
The program in question is the Phrasee programme, whose head is Parry Malm, a Canadian who moved to the UK in 2006. He worked in marketing, and assumed that technology was there to stimulate human creativity. He describes himself as “stunned” at the lack of this technology.
Phrasee, the company he founded in 2015, is the product of Mr. Malm’s bewildered reaction.
“It was left to Mad Men to get the right message across,” he explains. “But I wanted to apply scientific rigor to those messages.”
Standard writing goes through a process of editing, discussion and approval. Some of those steps are done by professional editors who work after your simple request “Please revise my essay“. Mr. Malm explains that Phrasee does the same using a technology called Deep Learning, which is a large network of predefined parameters and boundaries that direct the software in the right direction.
This allows him to bounce off the slogan, and categorize its impact on raw data gleaned from many sources.
At Rapp, an agency that bundles products and services into audience-specific messages and videos, Phrasee sucks up a million emails sent over the years.
He then repackages those phrases into new posts, adding tips from Rapp editors, technologists, and social media experts.
Phrasee builds models that generate appropriate keywords for each product and target the consumer audience.
The language that has been used in previous campaigns is poured into a deep learning model that applies values based on factors such as the look, feel or taste of a product.
Mr. Lopez knows that in an age of information overload, consumers are increasingly difficult to reach, as online sales managers reduce their appetite for any message.
Armed with a vast and separate linguistic arsenal of individual perspectives that make up the words of human editors, Phrasee thinks they fit our weary eyes.
Dixons Carphone still employs agencies and scriptwriters, but these come with the idea that Phrasee then adapts, refining the humanistic perspective.
For the recent Dixons Carphone campaign, Mr. Lopez used Phrasee to create variations of messages drawn from a decade of sales campaigns.
“What surprises me is that we still see wildcards appear from the list of messages you generate.”
The Black Friday message was one of those wild cards. Working online, Dixons Carphone receives quick feedback from consumers and quickly sees how well the audience receives the “Now is the time” message.
Lopez says editors don’t have to worry about AI solutions in their place, because they always need to get things done.
“But the human brain can’t consider thousands of options. Our editorial team creates messaging strategies, we haven’t replaced them.”
He is convinced of this future of artificial intelligence. “Combining designs and AI is the next step for agencies. It’s not AI versus humans, it’s generating creative thinking.”
This may be a relief to Ogilvy, the agency founded by advertising legend David Ogilvy. Its name evokes the brilliant and clever campaigns that have inspired generations of editors, and today Ogilvy calls itself the “University Hospital of Advertising.”
Ogilvy is proud of the Department of Behavioral Sciences headed by veteran vice president and copywriter Rory Sutherland.
It is a follower of new thought, but only if it does not stifle the spark of creativity that ignites the desires of consumers.
He fears AI is being channeled into agencies by “accountants” and has revolted against a “technology funding coalition” that uses innovation as a cost-cutting tool, ignoring costs and opportunities that are lost in the process. “These things tend to be looked at in terms of efficiency.”
Advertising, says Sutherland, “is about making something special. It’s not a product line.”
Programs like Phrasee can copy a copywriter’s work on an industrial scale. This digital advertising factory is Mr. Sutherland’s worst nightmare.
“My only caveat about using AI is that people are going to give it more power and influence than it’s worth in an effort to automate things, to fulfill the Fordian dream of having multiple versions of it out.” assembly line. “
In support of the creative human element, he cites large advertising slogans that have been modified by critical voices outside the editor’s office.
After 30 years working as a copywriter, Mr. Sutherland is always willing to listen to anyone who notices that a word or image might have a bad connotation in another culture.
If AI can be a third-party source of constructive criticism, it has a place in its universe. But it certainly will not allow him to vote decisive.
“As a catalyst, he proposes ideas, he has a great future. As a source of judgment, he is dubious.”
Returning to the Dixons Carphone, Mr. Lopez and his team continue to try to outdo the program. They run quizzes to see who can guess the winning Phrasee sentence.
“It’s an inside game, we do it right before we broadcast each new message,” he explains.
“And we always lose to the computer!”
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