Omar Oakes
Oct 5, 2018

How can the ad industry be so dumb when it comes to artificial intelligence?

Burger King's portrayal of dumb AI in its advertising may be funny, but it betrays a deeper fear within the industry.

How can the ad industry be so dumb when it comes to artificial intelligence?

Last week, Burger King launched a TV campaign that claimed each spot was "created by artificial intelligence".

Cue a nonsensical voiceover: "Bed of lettuce for you to sleep on, bed of mayonnaise for extra sleep."

Burger King claimed that it "made a deep learning algorithm to create new ads" after watching hours of previous footage (they were really created by all-too-human copywriters at its ad agency, David Miami).

The spots (radio and video) are funny and clearly they go down well at Burger King, which has been banging this drum for quite a while now, since it also created the ridiculous "Whopper neutrality" and "Google home of the Whopper", which took home a Grand Prix at Cannes this year.

But the reason why this ad is funny is because we’re all, deep down, very frightened by artificial intelligence and how it will make redundant apes of us all.

It is a tour de force in pandering to our fragile egos with a simple creative conceit: machines can never be truly creative and will always fail with hilarious consequences.

The reality, however, is that AI has reached a level of sophistication in the creative realm that would have been unthinkable a decade ago; look up "Android Lloyd Webber" and "Aiva Technologies" for what can now be achieved in theatre and music.

Creative excellence using AI has already come to the fore in the ad industry; remember how J Walter Thompson Amsterdam created "The next Rembrandt"  and swept the Innovation category at Cannes in 2016? Have you seen how DeepMind can use AI programs to draw images? Or how MullenLowe and Royal Caribbean International are creating soundtracks using picture galleries?

Given what we already know AI is capable of, how can such a crude premise as Burger King’s ad exist in an industry that is desperate to remain cutting-edge?

One recently departed agency creative believes there are two types of creative: those who inherently believe in their irreplaceable "genius" and who hold AI in contempt, and those who are positive about using AI for the mundane stuff that frees up time to solve harder client problems.

But what about a third category: creatives who want to explore AI to see what ideas are generated using a different way of thinking (yes, thinking) that would perhaps never have been thought of in any Soho pub or agency sofa?

"A lot of the time, there is a reluctance to accept that a machine is capable of creativity, and I guess it comes down to snobbery," the agency wag says. "But, let’s be honest, most creatives’ time is taken up by rewriting press ads or thinking about how to sell coffee or broadband. There is a lot that a machine can potentially do and that doesn’t have to mean jobs are at risk; we can liberate people to originate higher-level ideas and create more value for clients."

Burger King, just as you'd expect a junk-food brand to do, has ingeniously tapped into what makes us feel good as opposed to what’s really good for us.

But just like eating a burger and fries for every meal is likely to cause you some long-term damage, so too is being dumb about AI.

Omar Oakes is global technology editor at Campaign in the UK.

Campaign UK

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