Artificial intelligence is bringing profound transformation across the media and communications industry. It already forms a huge part of how content is delivered, as algorithms work to understand our behaviours and preferences. These insights are hugely valuable in understanding consumers and making communications more effective but can also pose their own challenges.
“The digital advertising market is worth about $350 billion a year and growing,” says Perry Nightingale, head of creative AI at creative transformation company WPP. “And we already see a lot of AI, particularly on the targeting side. Algorithms are constantly working around us to recommend the next piece of content to consume. But because of the way those algorithms work, we have to make a huge amount of content before they become effective. We need hundreds and hundreds of variations of an advert before it becomes worthwhile to split them up and show to different people, which all need to be created in the same amount of time and for the same cost.”
So while AI is already creating a more personalised, curated experience for consumers, the increasingly customised nature of content is pushing the capability of human creativity to keep up the pace. To do so, AI technologies are being developed that can help support the process of content creation.
An area in which AI can begin to have an impact is brand governance. Every piece of content that is created by a brand will have to comply with the brand design guidelines and specific technical requirements it has for different channels such as social media, video or retail environments. This means that as more and more content is produced, the process for the approval of that content becomes increasingly complicated and costly.
“What we have been developing with Microsoft is an AI solution to this problem,” says Stephan Pretorius, chief technology officer at WPP. “If you can codify an entire brand’s guidelines and specifications into an AI engine, you can use this to govern the creative process all through the supply chain. We’ve built a configurable content review platform, powered by Microsoft Cognitive Services, that can do just that.”
This makes it possible to validate content as it is created, making the process far quicker. It could even provide a tool that helps to ensure that brands maintain their commitments to inclusivity, which can sometimes get lost in the complex production process.
“Inclusivity is something that Microsoft and WPP care a lot about,” says Pretorius. “We’re currently looking at ways to take the idea of brand inclusivity and link it to brand governance, using essentially the same technology to review the content for inclusivity guidelines. This does not just have to be diversity, but also cases such as smaller copy that might make it more difficult for visually impaired people to read it. We might be able to build in workflows which could suggest imagery that makes the content more inclusive, or even help those without disabilities understand how visually impaired people might see it.”
WPP has also made use of AI in the creation of the image itself. As a use case for the Microsoft Surface Duo, Nightingale has developed collaborative creative AI for use on dual-screen devices, which could make the creation of an advert as simple as making a rough sketch. Using 20,000 images of Scarlet Macaws and the power of Microsoft Azure, Nightingale trained the AI to recognise the features of the bird. It could create a completely unique image of a Scarlet Macaw on one screen based upon a simple drawing by a user on the other in just under five seconds, including it within a template for a specific advertiser, which in this case was a global conservation NGO.
“What’s fascinating is that the AI can create images that could never exist in reality, such as a perfectly circular parrot!” says Nightingale. “And a lot of clients ask why someone is researching how to create a circular parrot. But this idea will transform a range of industries. Senior designers will be able to sketch their broadest ideas, and the AI will generate these designs that could never really be imagined before. In the next 10 years, you’re going to see some incredible acts of creativity that have been augmented by these types of creative computational algorithms.”
This raises the question of whether AI alone could begin to create content, without the need for any input of humans. In media and communications, where human creativity is central, such a prospect would cause significant disruption.
“I have to think very hard about how WPP will compete in that space and where our human creativity fits in,” says Nightingale. “The good news is that 70 per cent of the impact of those digital adverts is still caused by human creativity. In tests, we have taken that human creativity out by presenting a piece of black and white copy and have seen that the effectiveness of the advert plummets. The reason for this is that an advert is typically a social observation. They’re not pictures of objects or products, they’re little stories. AI will never come up with that social observation at the heart of the advert, because they have no contextual knowledge of our society or culture.”
The focus, therefore, is on how AI can support human creativity, rather than replace it. By making use of AI to ease the production process and enable new acts of imagination, companies will be able to transform their content into an even more personalised offering.
“This is a glimpse of where the future is going to go,” says Nightingale. “Your children will grow up knowing these interfaces in the same way that we know Microsoft Word. This is the way that we’ll create work, and we will not be able to stand still in this new world.”
Perspectives on AI
We asked Microsoft partners and customers how they are using AI to help businesses transform their content offerings. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 116 of the digital edition of the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record.
Kirsten Allegri Williams, chief marketing officer at Episerver, says: “Episerver Content Cloud and Episerver Intelligent Cloud make more room for expression by helping get new messages to market faster and all through insights about what customers want and where there is demand, respectively.”
Chatri Sidyodtong, chairman of ONE Championship, says: “By harnessing the power of data with AI technology, we are reimagining the fan experience.”
Theis Mork, vice president of product management at EPOS, says: “With EPOS AI, the ADAPT 660 offers intelligent, adaptive audio through unique machine learning algorithms that optimise voice pick-up for a positive auditory experience regardless of the user’s environment.”
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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