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What if your customers don’t want AI content?

by Deacon Webster

What if the advertising industry is hurtling towards a future that consumers may not actually want. While WPP and their ilk are placing major bets on AI generated imagery and ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman has said that within the next five years AI will be able to do 95% of what we do as an industry, nobody is actually asking the hard question – do people actually want AI to make the things they watch?

What if one of the main reasons people actually enjoy any form of entertainment is because it’s made by and features actual humans?

Imagine spending the day at the Museum of Modern Art only to find out after the fact that every one of the paintings was actually AI generated. Would that change the experience?

Would you care to watch an olympics featuring robots instead of humans?

When Star Wars Rogue One placed a CGI Princess Leah in a scene, it was novel, but nobody walked away from that wishing for more re-animated people mingling about in live-action movies.

Whether or not you believe AI imagery will soon dominate advertising depends largely on your perspective on how advertising works. If you believe that audiences take every ad at face value and don’t think much about the motivations behind the messaging, then AI feels like a home run. Lightning fast, cheap, customized iteration – sounds amazing! But if you believe, as I do, that people are fully aware that they are being exposed to a calculated commercial message when they’re watching an ad, then the idea of outsourcing all of your creative to an advanced non-human algorithm has important implications for the way the advertiser is perceived.

What does using AI generated imagery say about the businesses who use it? Sure an AI fashion model is cheaper and you can put them in an infinite number of outfits in an infinite number of settings, but if everyone KNOWS it’s an AI model, there’s a downside. First and foremost it tells customers that the brand is cheap. It tells them that they are more interested in efficiencies than a human touch. It also tells them that they may not be seeing exactly what your product looks like and you don’t think that matters.

There are already signs that the public might not readily embrace AI in ads: The “He Gets Us” Jesus Super Bowl spot which was not AI generated but looked that way, came under fire online for its seeming use of the technology. Under Armor’s latest TV spot drew intense criticism just last week for its use of AI. And Mahindra, a Formula E racing team, retired their virtual brand spokesperson after just 11 social posts. “Mahindra creating an AI team ambassador that is a woman instead of simply hiring one real, actual woman to fill that role is so incredibly messed up”, wrote Devin Altieri on X (formerly Twitter).

Some thoughts for marketers who are dipping their toe in the AI waters:

– Don’t try and pass AI humans off as real humans. It comes off as icky.

– Wrap the concept around it. Heinz, Old Spice, and Burger King have all found interesting ways to put the technology front-and-center in their ads to great effect.

– Consider using AI additively rather than as a wholesale substitute for something real. It’s another tool, not a replacement for the whole toolbox.

Unquestionably AI tools have a major role to play in the ad industry going forward. But we need to be careful when it comes to removing all signs of humanity from the finished work. Those signs of life might be the only thing people actually respond to.

What if your customers don’t want AI content?