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The Creative Mutants Are Coming. Let's Embrace them

BBH joint CSO argues that when everyone has AI tools the creative industry must re-engage again to find the uncharted space

By Will Lion

We can all see that AI is progressing at breathtaking speed. But before we get to prophesying the death of all our careers, let’s think about the nearer term. The first thing that will happen is that the unit of storytelling is going to mutate.

Over the last 20 years the internet unlocked a marketing dream: the possibility of delivering different messages to different people in different media to make those media dollars work harder. But the true bottleneck was always the cost of making advertising, with its expensive talent, shoots and Photoshop. So, personalisation only reached low cost creative.

Today that bottleneck is disappearing: with generative AI, we are standing at the top of a creative cost curve plummeting downwards to zero. Things that took months to make can now be done in minutes.

And when that happens, the creation of a perfect, singular creative animal, of which everyone sees only one version, will come to an end. Or at least is going to be joined by something else.

Because the creative mutants are coming.

Full-blown, hybridised, personalised stories that morph and flex to their viewers, the times, the timeframe, geographies and many other factors are near. Setting, character, story and message could turn to liquid, ending the idea of the pure director’s cut or campaign idea.

This is a speciation event for creativity, like the Cambrian explosion.

Take your pick of any big new upcoming entertainment property: The Little Mermaid, Dune or Squid Game.

A lead could represent any community you choose - black, white, ginger, older, younger, trans, posh, poor - shown to multiple audiences all at the same time, because the character can be spun up using

The set design could be fine-tuned to your tastes, the sex scenes remixed for your particular preferences, the score rewritten to suit your deep cuts, but with enough serendipity built in that you still feel the joy of discovery.

The length could be tweaked on the fly based on whether you want the story for bedtime, a commute or a full feature length movie.

And for advertising?

I see only an exacerbation of those forces because there's a harder sales incentive and a smaller unit of creativity than a film or TV to experiment with.

We’ve all experienced the pain of transcreation; end-frames tacked on for product updates or products in different markets having different features all trying to squeeze into one global ad. It will start there.

We already know better representation in advertising sells more, so we can expect talent to become a mutant too.

Sets will morph, cars will obey local advertising restrictions, shots of food might flex across a country depending on the local preferences.

And endlines and RTBs could all become mutants too, fluidly changing to find the best engagement or sales, short and long depending on the time frame.

As usual, porn - the canary in the mine - is showing the early examples, with services popping up (I’m told) where AI will spin up characters and situations based on individual tastes.

Or, to see the power to generate creative at speed, look at this AI shark attack, where a ‘realistic’ megalodon shark attacks a warship. It would have been the dream of many special effects houses in the past. Today it's created for virtually nothing.

The best examples from the marketing world are the Balenciaga mashups, which took beloved pop culture franchises like “The Office” or “Breaking Bad,” had AI punch up the characters’ style to look suitably Balenciaga and then animated these into short films with funny lines about the fashion brand, like “Bears, Beets, Balenciaga”. Go see some here. That effort would have cost six figures to animate in 2022. In 2023, it’s an afternoon and 5 AI engines talking to each other.

You may be thinking, just because we can do this soon, should we? Is all this needless complexity and over-engineering, like that strange period when sports shows encouraged you to choose your own viewing angle through the red button and most people thought ‘nah, someone talented can do that for me’. And what about the power of collective stories and creative vision and taste, standing out when everyone is at this and creating even worse echo chambers?

All good points. But horrifying as it may seem, we all end up living downstream of economics eventually. Lower costs and greater effectiveness make this feel like an inevitable step in a series of long steps towards a much chillier future.

And what might the steps after the mutants look like? At the most extreme, AI could rip back through the creative process, murdering production, creativity and strategy on its coldly logical path.

It could eventually start with just the objective. Here it would throw multiple informed strategies at the audience, brought to life in multiple creative ways, via multiple media in a ruthless lockpicking exercise to find the quickest returns.

When the point of strategy is to find a way to win when you have limited time and resources, it gets a bit awkward when vast computing power and generative AI cut the legs out from underneath the "limited" part of that sentence.

As content creation tends to zero in cost, the only limiting factor is media costs.

By 2024 entire campaigns could be done this way.

By 2025 entire brands.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves and being deliberately extreme, to test these ideas in public. In the meantime, all I’m saying is we best make friends with the mutants. They’re coming.

Will Lion is the joint chief strategy officer at BBH


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