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Why Human Ingenuity Matters Over AI in Advertising?

AI is the backbone of the most striking advertising innovations of our time. Still, it can’t compete with human creativity. Until it gets there, a marriage of AI and human analysis is essential.
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Artificial intelligence is the backbone of the most striking advertising innovations of the last decade.

Modern marketers use intelligent digital platforms to design ad creative, buy media, and automate campaign deployment.

AI also plays an increasingly integral role in ad automation, helping advertisers test, iterate, and optimize performance. Still, many envision a grander future — one in which AI can manage ad campaigns independently.

Though that future is possible, today, it’s just hype. Even AI pioneers only entrust the AI systems with specific problems. In the advertising industry, AI is mostly used for quantitative analysis because it cannot grasp human emotion or creativity. Until it is, the best advertising will rely on a marriage of AI and human ingenuity.

AI is a ‘hardworking assistant’

IBM defines AI as “the simulation of human intelligence” in machines programmed to mimic humans’ actions and thinking. Today, this description is apt: AI still mimics humans, surpassing them only in quantitative intelligence. But if AI helps accelerate analysis and eliminate human error, why not let it run the show? 

Because even according to scientists, AI is powerful but not yet perfect. Physicist Kai Polsterer sums it up by saying that AI-based systems are “hardworking assistants.” He cautions that researchers can only trust AI systems to solve specific problems, and human oversight is a key part of the process. Astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski shares his sentiment. Schawinski calls his model of galaxies a “hypothesis-generation machine.” Still, he says, “I have to come in as a human and say, ‘Okay, what kind of physics could explain this effect?”

The same is true in advertising. The most effective platforms use AI to answer specific questions, with humans guiding the analysis and putting its findings into context For example, let’s say we use AI to tell us what creative performs best for a food delivery service. We may learn that sushi gets more clicks than burritos. We can even task an AI system with making more ads with sushi in them. But we won’t understand why people prefer the sushi ad until a human points out that the burrito is wrapped in foil. Who gets hungry looking at foil?

AI can’t speak to matters of the heart

So, for now, AI makes a better assistant than it does campaign manager. That said, advertising is less complicated than astrophysics. Could it move into the driver’s seat sooner in our field?

Advertising is a science and an art. The Mad Men era has passed, but the most successful campaigns still have a human story. Whether they pull on our heartstrings, weave a cultural narrative, or simply make us laugh, the best ads use emotion. When it comes to AI, emotion is still the toughest nut to crack. 

In an interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein, historian Yuval Noah Harari says that “Most humans today do very specific things that an AI will soon be able to do better than us.” Still, Klein counters, “What human beings are skilled at [is] interacting with other human beings.” Harari asserts that “Emotions are not some mystical phenomena that only humans can read.” Still, he admits, we are not there yet.

Think back to the most memorable ad campaigns of the past decade. There’s the infamous “Share a Coke” campaign that tapped into the human need for connection. Volkswagen provoked nostalgia with its Star Wars-themed Super Bowl ad. Always helped a generation reclaim the phrase “Like a Girl.” The best ad campaigns tell a human-centric story, so it’s tough to substitute ones and zeros. 

The model for AI in advertising is human-machine synthesis

AI can’t compete with humans in every area, but innovation isn’t a zero-sum game. In advertising, the key is to use AI as the “hardworking assistant” it is.

In practice, we can use AI to identify patterns across ad creative, highlighting which images, colors, and taglines are most effective. Humans can guide the process by asking the right questions and giving context to the results. We can also use AI to generate hypotheses and accelerate the creative iteration process. Beyond creative optimization, AI can help marketers personalize campaigns, segment and target audiences, and radically improve ROI.  

By synthesizing AI with human analysis, we make the greatest use of the tools at our disposal. We enhance campaign performance, velocity, and scale with machine-driven insights while keeping sight of the humanity that sets great ads apart.

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Asaf Yanai
Asaf Yanai joined yellowHEAD as VP of Growth after more than a decade of marketing and business development experience. His previous roles include Business & Marketing Optimization Group Leader at Webpals Group, VP of Marketing at TrafficsLords by SingulariTeam, and Head of Media Buying at Crossrider Plc. An entrepreneur at heart, Asaf received a B.A. in Business Administration in 2012 and later received his MBA in Marketing from IDC Herzliya in Israel.

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