AI and Creative: These Are the Droids You’re Looking For

By Michael Ruby

Even as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation reshape the future of work, creative professionals may have thought themselves irreplaceable. After all, how could a machine truly create? Turns out the answer is “scary well, actually!” But as is the case with most things AI, it’s not all bad news. What was the team of art and copy is now art, copy and code – and may likely become art, copy, code and algorithm.

That’s Luke freakin’ Skywalker

December 2020’s season finale of The Mandalorian wasn’t a Christmas miracle, but it was entirely miraculous. Luke Skywalker returned. Not the older, grizzled, skeptical Luke portrayed by an elder Mark Hamill. This returning Jedi was the legendary hero not seen since Return of The Jedi nearly forty years prior. I sat on the edge of my seat, barely conscious of the tears streaming down my cheeks, my mouth agape until I whisper-cried, “That’s Luke freakin’ Skywalker.”

For those of us of a certain age, this was our Luke. The Luke. On screen. In the flesh. Sort of…

The new (old?) manifestation of Luke is the product of artificial intelligence, an algorithmic recreation of our beloved farm boy from the deserts of Tatooine, amalgamating the performance of a live actor, input from Mark Hamill himself, and a digital manipulation based on the younger Hamill’s voice and visage.

It’s thrilling, a little terrifying, and just the beginning of the new age of synthetic media.

Say hello to synthetic media

As AI video company Synthesia puts it, “Because producing media is no longer a physical, but a digital process, we can create content in completely new ways.” One of those ways is using technology to create synthetic media: video, image, text and voice content that has been fully or partially created by artificial intelligence.

Synthetic media can be used for artistic purposes, like Master Luke. It can be made for laughs and to raise awareness of the possible uses/misuses of AI, such as TikTok’s “deep fake Tom Cruise.” Or synthetic media can be terribly abused, as in the cases of non-consensual pornography, complex social engineering schemes to defraud businesses, or fabricated videos that appear to show President Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi in poor health – or that attempt to depict Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling his army to surrender.

It’s no wonder 9 out of 10 Americans believe deepfakes could cause more harm than good. But, like all technologies, synthetic media isn’t inherently good or evil. It is what we make of it – and we’re on track to make a LOT of it. Some experts project upwards of 90% of all video content online will be synthetic by 2030.

Didn’t we already beat the AI creative director?

n 2015, McCann Japan tested the potential creativity of artificial intelligence by pitting a human creative director against an algorithmic competitor named AI-CD. The human and AI creatives were given the same brief, and tasked with creating an ad for Mondelez Japan’s Clorets Mint brand that promoted “instant-effect fresh breath that lasts for 10 minutes.” A human audience was then asked to vote on who created the better ad. Man beat machine – but not by much (54% creative director, 46% AI-CD).

That said, strategy and idea generation aren’t where we need to focus our attention now. As with so many AI technologies, it’s the ability to automate and accelerate creative tasks that will be game-changing. The Marketing AI Institute asserts that every career path and business in marketing and sales will be changed by AI.

According to the latest State of Marketing AI research, 74% of marketers believe they will be intelligently automating more than a quarter of their tasks in the next five years; 41% anticipate half or more of their tasks will be automated in that time. For creatives, the research says this means using AI to:

  • Optimize website content for search engines
  • Create data-driven content
  • Predict winning creative or content performance before deployment
  • Personalize content

Synthetic media expert Nina Schick, who literally wrote the book on deep fakes, echoes the research. On a recent podcast, she said: “AI is going to democratize content creation, it’s going to make it so much cheaper. By the end of the decade, a YouTuber or a TikToker will be able to produce the same kind of content that’s only accessible right now to a Hollywood studio.”

The real magic of AI for creators

I’ve heard designers use explicative-laden verbiage to criticize Canva. But if they think Canva is a threat to the craft of design, they ain’t seen nothing yet. After all, Canva doesn’t create high-quality artwork for you. New AI technologies like DALL-E and VQGAN+CLIP do – like the example above created by DALL-E (WALL-E plus Dali equals mind blown).

AI-generated artwork isn’t new, but it’s reaching a tipping point in terms of quality and ease of use. Just as Photoshop and visual effects software changed what we thought was possible with content creation, AI will create art and design, write copy, and produce entire videos at scale, with little human intervention or physical resources required.

“Open A.I.’s DALL-E-2 and Google Brain’s Imagen are remarkable steps toward the proliferation of synthetic media with text-to-image synthesis tools,” writes Mounir Ibrahim, VP of Public Affairs and Impact at our client Truepic in a recent Fortune article. “These platforms can turn any descriptive sentence, such as “surveillance footage of Homer Simpson running in a mall, low quality, black and white,” into a hyper-realistic photo in less than 20 seconds. The most astounding aspect of these tools? They require absolutely no skill or knowledge to generate the images.”

Imagine being able to create product demos, training videos or customer testimonials without having to produce a shoot. You don’t have to, Synthesia is attempting to do this already. No studio. No actors. No green screens. Their platform enables users to create videos with just a script – and automatically produce translations in multiple languages with the click of a button.

Again, it’s simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. As craftspeople, it’s natural to be concerned about what these technologies could mean for how we work and what we work on. But, as with digital technologies that have come before, the creative opportunities are endless. AI will remove creative limitations and unlock entirely new ways of creating – and will likely amplify the need for skilled and discerning creatives who can use this technology to meet human needs and raise the bar for quality.

Getting symbiotic with synthetic media

To use another sci-fi analogy, AI needn’t be a creative Terminator. In fact, if we start to think intentionally about now, AI can be a profound enhancement for marketers, a symbiotic relationship between human and artificial intelligence that unlocks new and exciting ways of making content and experiences that create value for brands and their customers. Of course, we’ll need guardrails to ensure we know what’s real and what isn’t, (thankfully, we have our client partners at Truepic to help protect the authenticity of digital content). But in a world of increasingly synthetic things – from biology to food to entire realities – synthetic media can empower marketers and creative professionals in ways we’ve never imagined.

So let’s start imagining.

Michael Ruby President & Chief Creative Officer

Named the 2021 Best in Biz Creative Executive of the Year and part of the 2018 DMN 40under40, Michael is the President and Chief Creative Officer of Park & Battery. In his role, he is the company’s head of global brand strategy, creative and content. Michael’s work has been recognized by The One Show, Webby Awards, Global ACE Awards, B2 Awards, Content Marketing Awards, numerous awards from The Drum, and his favorite: “Best use of the word ‘boo-yah’ in a b-to-b ad ever,” according to Ad Age.

Read more