Can Creativity and Technology Co-Exist in Adland?

It’s difficult to get too far into any thought piece about the future of ‘work’ without running into the inevitable man vs machine debate. There are those that believe that machine intelligence, automation and computing power that extends beyond human capability poses a threat to our very livelihood. There are others who view the evolution of technology as an opportunity for humans to own and redefine their unique potential.

Often fiercely argued as an ‘either/or’ debate, there is a tendency to project a future where either man or machine has dominated the other. Can humans harness the potential of the machine for good or will machines build enough intelligence to subjugate the human race? At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re 2 hours deep into the latest Hollywood blockbuster, a gripping scene where the hero ultimately defeats the villain.

We see the same dichotomous thinking when it comes to defining the value of technology and creativity in our own industry. Hotly contested in Adland, and depending where your loyalties lie, technology is either destroying or accelerating creative potential. In his opinion piece, James Gross states “At the end of the day, creativity is underpinned by science and systems. We know what advertising works not out of random chance but rather by building briefs, consuming culture, running tests, observing the response, and learning from it to perform the next creative cycle — that’s how you make money, not art”1 .

By contrast, Mark Duffy in ‘Between ad tech and creativity, an all-out war’ argues the case for creativity, “Creating good creative is not a science. It’s a mix of art and persuasive communication. And it’s hard work. It’s messy. It’s unpredictable. It takes guts for a CMO to sign off on it. And the left-brained Zuckerbergs can’t deal with this, any of it. They can’t formulate the magical phenomenon of the creative process on a whiteboard…You can’t code creativity, Silicon Valley.”2

In a less dramatic (and far from worthy of Hollywood endings) reality, I would suggest there is a middle ground. As Steve Jobs contends, “The best way to create value in the 21st century is to connect creativity with technology.”3 Gross continues this argument, bringing it into sharp focus for our industry, “Let software handle repetitive tasks and the challenge of reaching people all over the world, so the creatives can speak to them about the truths they can’t ignore.”

The way we use data to inform creativity is key here – it’s about data-informed, not data-lead or data-driven. The messiness of crafting an amazing idea is uniquely human and data should not get in the way of that. Equally, the science of computing a huge volume of inputs is best left to the machine. Where we can converge is the development of the ‘insight’ to inform the creative – and that should be exciting, not terrifying.

1 https://digiday.com/marketing/opinion-actually-technology-creativity-better-together/
2 http://digiday.com/marketing/ad-tech-vs-creativity-war/
3 2011, Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

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