Is a marketing robot coming for you?

Recent research suggests Artificial Intelligence will take an increasing role in marketing.

And in truth, many of us have already seen the impact of autonomy and automation. Email marketing engines, for example, have been split-testing and sending based on the best-performing subject lines for years.

Likewise, we’re familiar with ad placement through Google. The best performing ads are run in the most responsive times. The bots are even so helpful as to guide on prospective ad layouts and wording for your digital campaigns.

So far, so maths.

But how about applying AI to creativity?

Can the machine match our ability to craft and create compelling sales messages that cut through the clutch of competitors?

You might think the obvious answer is ‘no’. Computers can already beat us at chess, drive our cars, land our aircraft, diagnose our symptoms and recognise cats (sometimes). But walk through the corridors of the Louvre or the Smithsonian, and you’ll find no works by Microsoft or IBM.

But algorithms are now playing a key role in the creative process.

Legendary Pictures (the company behind Inception, The Dark Knight, Jurassic World and many more hits) uses complex AI to predict ticket sales for movies and inform marketing strategies, see link: .

In search of the perfect formula, studios can apply the same data to scripts and decide whether the pitched production will make a box office smash.

So far, so science.

But there’s a problem.

And the problem is human nature.

You see, if all movies were formulaic, we would all eventually stop going. Because the whole point of a movie is to be entertained. And it’s difficult to be entertained by essentially the same film.

Now apply that same thinking to marketing. Specifically, to advertising.

The point of advertising is surely disruption. And that relies on difference. As John Hegarty said in an interview with the FT: “Difference is vital for giving a brand a competitive edge”. You can read the full interview here:

If an algorithm starts to analyse advertising headlines for effectives, in the short term all headlines will tend to a proven pattern. And if success is based on difference, then the pattern will surely be self-defeating.

You can try that theory here:

It’s a site which assesses your headlines. Brilliant, you might think, as a wannabe copywriter.

So, to test its effectiveness, here are four headlines from incredibly successful campaigns:

Lemon – from the famous Bill Bernbach VW ad

Not all mind expanding substances are Illegal – one of many brilliant ads for The Economist

Cancer cures smoking – an award-winning ad from Cannes in 2003

At sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock – David Ogilvy’s brilliant (if dated) headline from the 1960s

The site scores each prospective headline out of 100. And the scores were as follows:

Lemon – 35

Not all mind expanding substances are Illegal – 65

Cancer cures smoking – 36

At sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock – 84

Interesting? Possibly.

Apart from the clear correlation between word count and score. And if advertising success was just a numbers game, there wouldn’t be enough space in Soho wine-bars for all the unemployed wordsmiths.

Marketing and advertising have often fallen between the stools of science and art. On the one hand, we want a predictable empirical result from our investment. On the other, we don’t know a good idea until we’ve tried it.

Which makes life for the algorithm tough. It might think a campaign will bomb because of its uniqueness. While we might counter completely the reverse. And vice versa.

Whatever the future holds, the kernel of successful marketing is sure to remain unchanged. Creativity. Ideas. And a mysterious blend of insight and intuition.

Otherwise, as Woody Allen suggested when he spoke about his father, we’re all doomed.

“They fired him,” Woody said. “They replaced him with a tiny gadget… that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.”