Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most hyped topics in advertising right now. Even Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, has cited that AI is on the cusp of world domination. It has the power to detect where an ad is being served, from digital screens to a full-page. Moreover, by deploying AI technology, marketers will be able to identify the best ad to use, how it should be displayed, and when. 

However, time and time again, we are faced with the age-old argument of whether humans will always be more creative than machines. In today’s hyper-digitalised world, brands need to find ways of marrying data with creativity to produce engaging and targeted messages to consumers. So, what role can AI play within creative optimisation? 

Human touch

Firstly, there’s no denying that machines still need a human to extract insights valuable to a marketer. You wouldn’t go to IBM’s Watson with a challenge, accept a solution and then ask it for an algorithmic and methodological breakdown. Few people would understand it.

Humans are the only ones able to offer anything near the level of understanding marketers are asking for and apply this specifically to achieve an emotional connection with the consumer. In other words, while AI can build a creative idea based on the data it is exposed to, such as live weather and social media usage, it cannot be considered “creative” in the truest sense of the word.

A machine cannot put two seemingly random thoughts together and recognise something new. Similarly, as it is only as intelligent as the data it has access to, it is an unable to develop an unconnected idea such as the Cadbury’s Gorilla or the Sony Bravia paint campaign because, think for one second; whilst there is data to show that the inclusion of animals in an ad spot will likely lead to a stronger brand uplift, would a machine with huge amounts of data available really come up the response of: let’s dress someone in a Gorilla suit and get them to drum to Phil Collins In The Air Tonight for a chocolate brand…?

No, of course it wouldn’t!  For that you need the underlying brilliance of the creative human mind.


Having said all that, there is a definite role for machines in supporting the creative process, especially with the rise of automation in performance marketing. When insights are leveraged alongside human input there is a huge opportunity to increase both profitability and efficiency for brands. This is especially relevant for digital advertising campaigns where machines are crucial for programmatic buying.

For example, over the summer we were tasked with creating a digital Olympics sponsorship campaign of Team GB’s success for an international alcoholic drinks brand. To achieve this, we developed a three-pronged strategy leveraging macro data and achieved a 400% life in consumer response rate.

To begin with, we created an always-on strategy which synced delivery to spikes in positive Twitter conversation around Team GB. Next, using a real-time sports feed linked to all Team GB gold medals, we delivered a burst of gold medal-related ads for a short period after each win. And finally, we served a sports-specific messages whenever Team GB athletes were competing in our top sports.

In peak moments where there were high numbers of gold medals won and celebratory tweets, content delivery was upwards of 50 times higher and engagement rates increased in line with this. Why? By using the data available to us we could select the relevant creative to help make the ad engaging for a mass audience, while layering moment marketing strategies allowed us to give the advertiser a huge presence during the most positive and emotional moments of the Olympics.

The case for hyrbitity

The simple fact is, as marketers we are in the art of storytelling and there isn’t a machine out there that can match the ability of a human when it comes to creativity…yet. The message should always be crafted by, and created for, humans. For creative and emotive campaigns this is essential. What has changed is the role of the human in developing these compelling campaigns.

To take a similar example from the retail world, since the introduction of self-service ticket aisles, humans have been moved from the more machine-like roles at the check-out to more efficient ones such as stacking shelves. Better stocked aisles mean customers purchase more and come back with a knock-on effect that has shown that, contrary to the original belief, self-serve checkouts have not lead to mass jobs losses in the retail or supermarket sector.

Back in the marketing world, we now need to take advantage of the insights machines can offer us, turn them into something tangible and then bring the findings to life, delivering ads that customers can be fully immersed and engaged in. It is about fusing humans and machines together.  If embraced properly, the opportunities available to marketers will be huge.