Artificial intelligence: the fall of the Mad Men and the rise of the machines

Attend Branded Content Day to discuss this topic and many moreAttend Branded Content Day to discuss this topic and many more

For many people, AI has sinister connotations. For them it conjures up a future where robots rule the world and humans are slaves to the algorithm. And they’re right to be wary. But like it or not, it’s here to stay. For the marketing sector the big question is how to use it to support - not replace - human creativity

In season seven, episode five of Mad Men, Michael Ginsberg gives Peggy his nipple in a box.

That’s perhaps not the most romantic love token ever, but it certainly made an impact. The trigger for Ginsberg’s meltdown? The arrival of a computer in the office. The big black box takes over a space formerly used by the copywriters of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. You don’t need a Masters in film studies to spot the symbolism at work in that scene. 

Season seven runs from 1969-70, a seminal period in the history of advertising. To borrow the title of the second half of that series, it was indeed ‘the end of an era’ - the end of the dominance of the likes of Don Draper, the end of the Mad Men.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it the beginning of a new era. When it comes to technology, it’s impossible to un-invent what’s been invented. As Harry Crane - the man responsible for the introduction of the IBM System/360 - understood, the genie never goes back in the bottle. The choice is simple: get with the programme or become obsolete. Disrupt, or be disrupted.

Not all tech innovation turns out to be beneficial, of course. Some does have a negative impact on work and society at large. Some turns out to be a flash in the pan. But you can’t - or shouldn’t - ignore it.

We are at another one of these ‘inflection points’ in our industry. Rather than a big black box, this threat to the status quo is largely invisible, and it goes by the name of artificial intelligence.

At Nemorin, we have a problem with the word ‘artificial’. It immediately conjures up negative connotations of fakery. Now, we’re not naive enough to think AI won’t be used for nefarious purposes. Deep fakes are deeply concerning. Using it to covertly and illegally influence election results is beyond the pale. We fully support initiatives such as AI for Good and the Council on Extended Intelligence.

But in the calmer waters of the advertising industry, its deployment is a little less controversial. Netflix is, in a sense, a leading light in the world of content marketing. We all know that its algorithms work out what shows to recommend based on your viewing history and those of people like you. That’s big data working hand in hand with machine learning and artificial intelligence. (We’ll leave the debate around the diminishing likelihood of serendipitous content discovery and cultural homogenisation to another day). Sky uses machine learning to suggest movies to watch based on your mood.

Both approaches could be deployed in brand marketing: why not present your website users with different content based on their past behaviour, or another signal - location, job title, time of day, pollen count, the weather?

Asos and other ecommerce companies are experimenting with visual search and image recognition. Shoppers can upload a photo to the e-tailor’s website and search the product catalogue for related items seen within that image.

Social listening combined with natural language processing allows insight to be gleaned from huge datasets, enabling marketers to go beyond demographic profiling and instead target potential customers using pyschographic segmentation. That’s something we’re now doing at Nemorin with our new offering - Nemorin+.

Artificial intelligence is also being used to automate some video production processes, freeing up staff to focus on tasks where they can genuinely add value. This is from an Adobe blog post on this topic:

“AI-powered content development allows videographers to develop multiple versions quickly and test them with audiences. AI also enhances video-editing capabilities, such as automatically identifying highlights and creating automated highlights reels… Marketers can create new video content based on uploaded photos or videos... Video creators can automatically match colour between shots, such as making sure that a performer’s skin tone is consistent across frames. Audio auto ducking intelligently reduces volume of music when overlaid with dialogue. And … animators of any level can create realistic effects such as ripples on water and fluttering flags.”

This isn’t science fiction. It’s available right now. It’s enhancing what we can offer our clients, and enhancing - not replacing - human creativity. In fact we prefer to refer to say ‘enhanced intelligence’ or ‘extended intelligence’, instead of using the A word.

Following his nipple-in-a-box gesture, Ginsberg is taken away on a stretcher, warning his colleagues that the machine will replace them. Harry Crane - the man who wanted the computer in the first place - is made a partner in the firm. Who do you want to be? Crane or Ginsberg? The choice is yours…

* This topic and many more will be discussed at Nemorin’s Branded Content Day, a free, one-day celebration of all things branded content taking place at the Curzon Soho on 20 November. Click here for more information and to add your name to the waitlist for this exclusive invitation-only event, which is run in partnership with the BCMA, the Drum and the Video Suite, and sponsored by BiiteseZ Systems and Publisher’s Toolbox.

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