Cannes Lions | Article
Is AI More Creative Than Us?

Artificial intelligence is trendy in marketing. It can help you plan your media placement, it can help you analyse the sentiment of your consumers, and it can even reply to your emails. But this year at Cannes Lions, The Drum took AI in marketing a step further, partnering with IBM Watson to resurrect David Ogilvy.

This ambitious project, entitled ‘Bottling The Best’, fed IBM’s Watson with all of Ogilvy’s writings, television appearances, soundbites, and memos, and created a tool which could respond to questions as if Ogilvy himself was the interviewee. Taking the concept a step further, Watson could then replicate the program, taking any of our thought leaders, trend setters and rule creators, and bringing their ideas into our digital world.

The concept is fascinating — what would David Ogilvy think of programmatic, Siri, Snapchat, on-demand services, the sharing economy, and Uber? But it also begs the question; if we can ‘bring back’ the most effective marketers and train them in the way our brave new world works, do we need any new thought leaders? And possibly more worryingly for the majority of us — do we need any new marketers at all?


The Drum not only tasked Watson with looking into the past, but also with looking ahead. This week, they are testing the predictive capabilities of Watson on creative work. They fed the programme historical data on Cannes entries which won and which didn’t. Watson has found patterns amongst that mass of data to identify what makes a winning piece and why. For agencies all over the world, it sounds like the golden ticket to fame and fortune, but surely this application runs the risk of standardizing our work in future years? And if so, will it continue to win?

For both of The Drum’s experiments with Watson’s artificial intelligence (both of which are mighty in their concept and result), it does seem to point towards a convergence of ideas; a world where we are creating based solely on previous trends and thoughts, a world where we are honing in on the ‘perfect’ method, a world where there seems to be no room for rogue genius.

But that doesn’t really sound like thought leadership, or Lions winners. Aren’t our celebrated visionaries and our venerated creations the ones which zagged when the others zigged?

For me, creativity is about the ‘new’ – ideas which don’t feel like they are a product of success from before, but instead a concept which takes us into a brand new universe.

David Shing spoke at The Drum’s AI launch event about Watson’s inability to stumble upon things; so does that mean that creativity, in our digital age of data-informed decisions and conversion of perfect method, is happenstance? The ability to take in the information from the past, let it guide your learning and your inspiration, but to then simply buck the trend and come up with something new, needed and non-attributable? If so, it sounds like computers indeed will never replace us.

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The dream doesn’t last for long though, with Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt speaking on a panel today about Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo, a computer programme capable of beating humans at the infamously complicated game Go. He spoke about the fact that AlphaGo was not trained specifically on the game, but instead was programmed to display intuition; it makes moves because they ‘feel’ right.

Think about that for a second. A computer programme which can ‘just know’, can ‘have a hunch’, can ‘happen upon’ ideas…

The Drum’s experiments with IBM Watson prove that AI can be a genuine asset in complex data analysis and short term predictions (especially if you take that power out of the marketing world and apply it to health and poverty), but in terms of creative thought, it’s limited in that in ‘creates’ solely through historical input.

For AlphaGo though, there’s something to really ponder. Right now, our creative ideas are made up of so much more than an ancient Chinese board game — but I doubt it’ll be long before computers are going beyond analysis based on past events and are ‘feeling’ their way through new problems and new challenges, getting rid of the need for thought leaders and creative thinkers, from both the past and the present.

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