End of the Ad agency? Say Hello to CAI

The article below is a snipet of a great article
by Stéphane Xiberras is President and Executive Creative Director, BETC Euro RSCG/Paris for Contagious magazine. It brilliantly pokes fun at the way some marketing communications have become so generic that there is no longer a need for creative imput.
Read on, enjoy and smile. A lot.

When you work in advertising, your job is to create messages that stand out and make an impact to create brand preferences among consumers. ‘Buy me, I’m the best’.

When you are a creative in advertising, your job is to find new ways of putting this message across. We are here to sell things and the aim is to do it with a wink of the eye that says: ‘Hey, I know you know I am trying to flog you something, but look, I found a new way of doing it and you’ll think it’s pretty cool’. We’re just a wink factory really.

Rewarding rhetoric
Today there are dozens of advertising festivals around the world that reward these new ways of saying the same thing. With Grand Prix, gold’s and silvers, these chosen ideas strut the Croissette at Cannes, adorn the cover of business magazines and are talked about on blogs. And when we see these campaigns, we say to ourselves that advertising still sparkles; that it’s still able to reinvent itself and to keep surprising us in different forms across different media. It’s exciting to see all that talent on display. It is an example and a motivating force not only for those who make the advertisements, but also for those who watch them and who commission them. But just between you and me, it’s more the lion that hides the savannah.

For everything that is being rewarded as the cream of the crop, this ‘new way’ to sell us things is only the very tip of a huge wave of campaigns unleashed on people around the world. One only has to have been on a jury in one of the in one of the festivals to realise that what is rewarded represents only maybe 0.00001% of global production. And the rest? Well…to be honest it’s not all that great. You just have to open a newspaper or turn on a TV to see repetitive, clichéd mindless, condescending messages. It is counter-productive for our industry insofar as our consumers become increasingly advertising aware and our consumers more wary of the effectiveness of campaigns.

Advertising’s Esperanto
It’s as if there isn’t one single discourse per brand but a single formatted advertising language, a sort of ‘Esperanto’ understood by everyone, a bland unimaginative language of a few words that commands us to ‘pay attention, this is advertising, this is how to speak in advertising’.

It was this rather disturbing observation that prompted me to push this paradox to its limit. Since advertising all too often resembles a mediocre rehashing of things that already exist, why not try to create a machine that could do it in our place?

The idea of CAI (Creative Artificial Intelligence) was born – a software robot that immediately and infinitely creates simplistic and non-differentiated advertising.

CAI (pronounced ‘Kay’) is the product of nine months relentless work. We compiled all possible, imaginable brand promises by product category. Next, we loaded CAI with thousands of visuals, bits of copy and dozens of typical page layouts. So when you ask CAI to work, she can randomly generate around 200,000 ads.

Let’s get to the specifics. You type in your category product (e.g. fast food) and then your product (pizza). Next you have to choose your target audience, the aim of your campaign (create awareness, launch a product, etc.) and chosen brand name, CAI will generate your product pack-shot. CAI will then propose all the possible brand promises associated with your product (in our example – delicious, genuine, homemade etc.). Once this is done (all in precisely one minute) CAI will present you with her copy strategy. If you are happy with it, CAI will begin the creative process (20 seconds) and offer you three possible print ads. Once you have made your choice, you can even see your future campaign in situ.
Thank you CAI.

Robotic reality
what started out as an intellectual game became more and more alarming as we progressed in the development of our robot. We expected to create a clumsy rather grotesque machine that would be systematically way off the mark, in a comical way.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. CAI produces something that is caricature, but that very often by some random diabolical grace, reminds us of an ad we have already seen on a street corner or on the page of a magazine.

CAI creates something that resembles advertising, but that fundamentally isn’t, in the sense that it lacks essential qualities: novelty, inventiveness and the unexpected. In short, anything that only a human being is capable of producing. CAI is a fascinating but dangerous machine because it synthesises the nemesis of our creative profession: standardised or formatted thinking, call it what you want.

In this sense, it is our responsibility to cultivate the differences between our agencies, to encourage our planners and our creatives to always strive to go further, and never to settle for regurgitating what has already been seen.

It is this difference that valorises our trade: it is the difference that drives the creation of stand out campaigns. Paradoxically, this difference often makes clients (and even those in advertising) suspicious. To be different is to risk not being liked. Ok, brilliant. But being like others is the most sure-fire way of getting lost in the masses. It’s illogical when you see what brands can spend, not to mention counterproductive.

In such a competitive marketplace, where our commercial content must compete with nigh-on infinite quantities of TV and internet content, who can continue not to take this risk?

Faith in the fact that creativity sells, and the courage to defend creativity against idiotic formatting no matter what, are the only arms that can still protect us against CAI. To surprise, to innovate, to invent is what we owe our clients and what they have the absolute right to demand from us.

This is the true story of CAI, the first and, I hope the last, robot who made advertising.

Stéphane Xiberras is President and Executive Creative Director, BETC Euro RSCG/Paris

The CAI team: Elodie Andurand, Héloïse Hooton, Clarisse Lacarrau, Claire Maoui, Xavier Royaux, Abder Zeghoud