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AI: Friend or Foe for Creative Functions?

AI is reshaping just about every single business function from finance to sales to customer service and beyond. Is automation a threat to creativity as we know it, or an opportunity to expand our horizons?

It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping just about every single business function from finance to sales to customer service and beyond. It makes sense because these functions all have practices that are ripe for automation. But what about the functions we typically think of as ‘creative’, such as marketing or advertising?

The idea of creativity is inherently human to us. It’s the ability to conceive original ideas and out of the box solutions. Many of us grew up believing that some people were more predisposed to this gift with either left- or right-brain thinking. So, if not all humans are naturally creative, how could a machine ever be? Is automation a threat to creativity as we known it, or an opportunity to expand our horizons?

Rethinking Creativity

This is not the first time that technological shifts have required creatives to think differently and reimagine their approach. In the early and mid-20th century, marketing and advertising were focused on mediums like TV, print, and radio. Then in the 90s, the internet appeared and opened a whole new world of possibilities. In the early aughts, social media came along and provided yet another shift, just as smartphones and other gadgets would later do. Creatives adapted to these changes, altering their content forms and tactics to maximise the capabilities afforded by new technologies.

AI will be no different. In fact, this technological change is the refresh that creative spaces have been needing. A lot of what we do in functions like marketing, PR, and advertising is based on two things: data and speculation. We have tons of information available about our customers, and then it is our job to turn those insights into campaigns or solutions that we think will satisfy their needs and wants. What we come up with may land, or we may completely misread the information and totally miss the mark. This wastes time, budget, and effort on projects which do not provide the return expected.

AI can turn the tables.  It is a data-driven platform, able to process and interpret more information than humans ever could, and at a depth that we simply cannot reach. We can use these insights to become more effective at what we do. We can create campaigns that hit the spot, stories that audiences want to read, content people want to watch, tailored adverts that drive a sale, and so much more simply because we understand more than we ever dreamed possible. AI uses the data to remove the speculation, enabling creative professionals to come up with creative solutions and ideas that are more likely to create the desired outcome for both them and their audiences. 

In the market today, there are numerous platforms and tools available that will write social media posts or blogs for you, recommend which accompanying imagery to use for your posts, and conduct A/B testing to advise on which topics, titles, colour schemes, and so on will resonate best with your audiences. This may be off-putting for some, and the idea of bot-generated content conjures up mental images of disjointed, nonsensical, or unnatural sounding sentences. However, natural language processing (NLP) has evolved to a point where the average reader would never even know that the copy was not written by a human being. In fact, credible media organisations such as The Washington Post use AI bots to write some of their articles and online content. A few years ago, Lexus devised an award-winning car commercial that was completely created by AI. You would never know these things were created by AI unless told otherwise, so we have come a very long way in the world of automated content creation. This technology will likely only get better and stronger with time. Does that mean we can eliminate the human element altogether, and let the AI do the work?

Understanding AI’s Limitations

Much of the criticism about AI stems from the belief that automation takes humans out of the mix. While this technology is capable of incredible things, the truth is that we are nowhere near AI reaching artificial general intelligence and some experts doubt we ever will. That means there will always be a role for the human to play, or a gap that needs filling.

AI and automation might mean that our jobs – as we have historically known them – will change, and we may have to learn new skillsets or capabilities to adjust to new ways of working. This may also mean some jobs get eliminated, but we will also see new jobs created by AI.  AI is not a standalone technology. We need people to oversee it, to operate it, and to make sense of the insights it creates. We will need people to fill in any gaps. Some might view this as a threat to the creative industries as we have historically known them, but really, it is just another exciting step on the journey of continuous evolution.

The indisputable truth is that AI will reshape creative jobs by freeing up time for the human worker to actually be creative.
Think about how much of the job of the marketing, PR, or advertising professional is taken up by more mundane or repetitive tasks such as writing content, conducting research, updating media lists, and so on. Now imagine if they did not have to do any of that simply because AI could do it faster and better. That opens the door for these professionals to do the parts of the job that are actually creative and much more satisfying to do.

AI can deliver insights or generate content, but it is still up to the human worker to assign relevance to these insights and devise the ideas and strategy that will then guide that campaign. AI can be creative, but only within the parameters of the task or function it was designed for. Moving forward, the job of the human worker will likely be to fill those gaps and provide the types of creative or strategic thinking that the technology cannot match. So, is AI the death of creativity? Only as we’ve known it. When it comes to creativity, AI is simply the next opportunity in a long history of growth and change. Creatives should think of it as a new horizon to explore, and one which will allow them to push their limits and explore new ideas. Change can be daunting, but it’s also very exciting. Once you embrace the unknown, the possibilities are endless.

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