All aboard the AI train? Then we can start…

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Photo by Matheus Bertelli:

How are we settling in? Comfortable? The first few months in the age of AI have been unsettling, surprising, and occasionally disappointing – all at the same time.

As at the start of any revolution, the promises and expectations change constantly. And this has been no different. The promise of unbridled creativity has been partly true in images, sometimes true in text and totally true in the way people are using AI more broadly.

The Belgian agency Crosscast recently brought together some of their most active freelancers to try and find some consensus.

Re-defining added value (have you?)

To cut long and fascinating discussions short, the developers were thrilled by the possibilities of the new apps being released, from Jasper to Framer and even the unassuming Notion (did anyone know that it can translate into dialects of Dutch?).

The writers muttered about “creativity” which is normal, given that is their (our) added value in the communication process. But all were nonetheless impressed by the formidable extra muscle that AI (principally ChatGPT et al) bring to jobs that require extensive research or repetitive tasks such as writing product summaries for catalogues and the like.

As someone pointed out (OK, it was me), when clients are offered an alternative product or process that is cheaper and faster than what they are currently using, they will ditch the quality concerns without hesitation.

This was true when MP3s killed CD sales and when viewers massively moved from cinema-going to watching things on sometimes tiny screens.

Nobody wants to be using the Betamax or MySpace of their industries in 2023.

CDs and cinemas still exist, needless to say. But the former has been devastated and the jury is out on the second one.

So ultimately, ethics aside, the choice for people in development and in creative communications is not if we are going to embrace AI, but which app to start with. Nobody wants to be using the Betamax or MySpace of their industries in 2023. ?

Generative AI: how is it working out in practice?

From the copywriting side, I have been using the “chat” functions for a while. To cut to the chase, I consider them to be like a great junior assistant. Prior to chat (shouldn’t we find a better name for a function that we boss around?), doing larger-scale projects such as white papers involved a lot of desk research and rabbit holes. When the right prompt is chosen, however, the resulting summary provides a very useful framework from which to start. Hours saved right there.

At this stage, I could ask it to flesh it out into specific chapters and get home earlier in the day. But there are well-known issues:

  • Hallucinations and errors
  • Copyright

If you ever got caught by AI “hallucinations” – glaring errors in generated texts – more fool you. Proof-reading has existed since the time of the printing press.

Caution and common sense must be applied here. Or in other words, re-writing.

Michael Leahy

Copyright is also easy to deal with. If you are comparing the use of artificial with real grass for the other parents of your child’s football club, copyright is hardly an issue as the documents you might have produced with AI are for internal use. If you are selling a white paper to a client, there is both an ethical and legal issue with using ChatGPT straight out of the tin. It is unthinkable that extracts could potentially be lifted from existing documents that were used as a source. Also, the points that might have been made by a pressure group or consultancy might not reflect those being put forward by your client.

So caution and common sense must be applied here. Or in other words, re-writing.

Can we change the way we talk about creativity?

I’m always a bit uncomfortable when creativity and inspiration are mentioned. They are often painted in quasi-Romantic colours with talk of “uniqueness”. But let’s be honest, everyone in advertising and corporate communications has bookmarks (and sometimes even books) with examples of great communications. We all build on other things that we feel work and add our own sensibilities and the requirements of the actual brief.

Asking a language model to help is not all that different from having a colleague across the desk throwing ideas at you. To be clear, I am for this idea. Ideas work best when there are a lot of them. You pick, choose, blend and sometimes react violently to them until an original way of making your point pops up.

Ideas work best when there are a lot of them.

Michael Leahy

Then you do it until you have three separate great ideas and let the client or account manager decide. Easy.

I have yet to use the generative images or text suggestions straight from ChatGPT without working them. But I thoroughly enjoy getting lots of ideas and tinkering with them.

Will AI affect pricing?

What about the money? Should we charge the same price for work if it is being done faster? Yes, argue some – including me – as it can cut the project time significantly if the approval process plays ball. There must be some value in that.

Not necessarily, say the people that say we can get more work and billable hours done per day.

Ultimately, the market will decide. I think the people that consistently come up with impactful communications that are produced faster will continue to command above-average fees for simply being better at every level. There has to be some value in that too.

One more thing: other people

AI is not some dark secret that only elites share amongst each other. Everyone is being pushed to try it.

So yes, I’ve had a client send me a text they generated themselves, asking me to jazz it up. At first, I thought, “My God, Michael, has it come to this – playing second fiddle to a machine?” In reality, it’s not such a bad idea. For one thing, the client has ownership of the idea. It has basically been pre-approved before it gets to me. My job was therefore (to nip cleverly back to the beginning of the article) to add some value. To take that dry, fake-friendly AI tone and make it relatable to actual people.

And that is the goal, to make people smile, ask themselves questions, click and share. That much has not changed.

Michael Leahy writes as The Write Stuff. Call 32/496/62 68 43 for availability

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