McCann's 'AI creative director': not an April Fool's gag

Today's welcoming ceremony for new graduates at McCann Worldgroup in Tokyo saw the arrival, or rather, unboxing, of one particularly interesting staff member.

The team behind the AI CD at McCann Worldgroup Tokyo
The team behind the AI CD at McCann Worldgroup Tokyo

The AI CD, a "creative director" drawing on artificial intelligence to suggest ideas for the development of TVCs, joined 11 graduates from universities including Keio, Waseda and Sophia on their first day of work at the agency.

The technology first came to light last September, but has only now been given physical form. It responds to briefs by using historical data around TVCs to write creative direction using a robotic arm. It has been assigned to a client, but McCann was unable to reveal which company.

In his induction speech, Charles Cadell, McCann Worldgroup's Asia-Pacific president and newly appointed president for Japan, told the joiners, most of whom were female, that they should see the agency as a springboard for an international career, if they wanted it.

He also said he hoped the AI CD "won’t come to replace us".

That day is not here yet, but the unveiling of the technology has provoked an emotional response. While some have praised it as an impressive feat of engineering, others have reacted with scepticism or even anger at the idea that a machine might be able to supplant — even to a small extent — human creatives.

Campaign spoke to Shun Matsuzaka, the creative planner behind the initiative, about what it all means.

For the record, are you sure this is not an April Fool's joke?

No, it isn’t.

Is the AI CD male or female?

It doesn’t have a gender. It can be both.

Shun Matsuzaka receives a business card from the new joiner:

wide player in 16:9 format. Used on article page for Campaign.

What is the algorithm behind it, and who did you work with to create it?

We can’t disclose names but a few companies helped us, in terms of analysing TVCs and creating the AI algorithm.

Some might see this just as a PR stunt for McCann. What would you say to them?

The reason I started this project was to clarify the thinking behind the construction of TVCs. It’s always been in the creator’s head. Legendary creative directors probably [aren’t aware] of the theory or method behind creating a good commercial movie. With this, we are able to analyse it. We are kind of working backwards to analyse TVCs. That’s an ability agencies have and tech companies do not.

So part of the reason for this is to prove the value of agencies?

Kind of. The data itself is very interesting for a lot of clients. To understand a TVC at production stage is very hard for marketers but in the future we will be able to present why something is good.

Why is it necessary to give the AI CD a physical presence?

I wanted a symbol. To have a physical piece that creative members can actually see as a member of the team, rather than just having it on a screen.

Doesn’t too much logic kill the ‘magic’ of the creative process?

Maybe sometimes, but by watching a lot of TVCs [for the purpose of analysis and AI development] we found a lot of things were produced based on historical ideas. So we can tell there’s a tendency for toiletry brands [for example] to feature family occasions, but no one has used another [particular setting]. It can come up with ideas humans cannot.

What would you say to the haters?

I’m not trying to destroy the area of creative direction and I don’t think AI can take over because this can only [address] the very beginning of creative production. We just developed it to support human creativity.

Do you have a message for the graduates entering this strange new era?

I was surprised at the impact of this news and I think most people who are reacting are of our generation, so I think this is most relevant to new grads. They are used to learning [from data]. That’s what we’re doing here: collecting a lot of data from the past and learning from it to get better. I’m expecting [the new graduates] to help input ideas to the AI CD and help develop its brain.

This article originally appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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