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The one thing AI can't do better than us - yet

4 min read.



Employer Branding

Are marketers and creatives about to be replaced by the relentless and rapid rise of AI technology? Whilst it is transformative to many processes, there is still one thing it will struggle to improve upon...

This week, OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman was quoted as saying: "95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today will easily, nearly instantly, and at almost no cost be handled by the AI."

I think he’s right. But I would also argue that the 95% of the value brought by agencies, strategists, and creative professionals exists in the 5% that remains unattainable by AI. At the moment.

This ‘tool’ makes the tasks within the job much easier, but it makes the job itself much harder. 

I believe the question we should really be asking ourselves is: “Can AI synthesise human psychology to the extent that we get unpredictability, differentiation and real emotional connection from the marketing produced?”

Or, to put it another way -  “Does AI have imagination yet?”

I believe the current answer is no. Maybe in the near future that answer will change radically, but not today.

But why does that even matter?

The human upgrade

It’s undeniable that marketers across the world have become more efficient and effective through the use of AI technology.

It’s like all the woodcutters of the world upgrading their axe to a chainsaw – it has to be good news for the industry.

AI is the most powerful utility upgrade to mankind since electricity replaced steam. Does this mean that poor marketers now have the ability to become competent marketers? Yes, I believe it does.

Does it mean that good marketers now have the ability to be better? Yes, absolutely.
Does it mean that good marketers now have the ability to be great marketers? Absolutely not.

They now, however, have the ability to do more good marketing than they could yesterday. Which is good, right?

So, why doesn’t AI help us all become great marketers?

AI is in an era of offering transformational efficiency and predictably limited effectiveness and will exploit every inch of an advantage that can be gained by leveraging logic as far as it can possibly go. But what of the results beyond logic? Logic has its limitations. There’s a reason Spock didn’t run the Enterprise.

One could dive headfirst into the romantic notion of what makes a great artist, musician, actor and so on, and talk about the soul and creative interpretation and there’s something to that argument.

There’s a more reasonable, tangible, and digestible argument, however, that is more difficult to deny.

Rory Sutherland said it best when he said: “You’re not thinking, you are merely being logical”, and “Not everything that makes sense works, and not everything that works makes sense.”

I believe great marketing comes down to lateral thinking, creativity, and original thought.

If you think about it (logically), logic will always take you to same place as your competitors. Logic is a race to the top, and everyone has the ability to get there, therefore nobody has the ability to win with logic alone. And suddenly the top becomes the same as the bottom. Boo.

What’s more,  if you feed in poor data, lazy assumptions and weak ideas into AI, you get output that relates to the quality of input. Which is… poor.

Good not great

Yes, you can leverage AI to do research for you, stress test assumptions and improve on your ideas, mimic best practice, copy industry leaders, reverse engineer the competition - it’s all very impressive and exciting.

And a lot of poor marketing will benefit from being analysed and made simpler and more coherent. Complex sentences can be simplified and made more succinct. But you can’t replace original thought. Not yet at least.

Good marketing follows best practice, and that can be replicated and scaled to good effect.  Great marketing breaks the rules and often stands out for the right reasons because the right rules have been broken.

True differentiation comes from counter intuitive ideas and the unpredictability of creativity.

At Ph, we always say: “Data tells you what, but people tell you why.” We also say: “It’s not the tools, it’s how you use the tools.”

At this moment in time, existing tools have not made it possible to add context, think laterally or imagine completely alternate irrational good ideas based on what we know AND FEEL about the human condition.

To illustrate the point, I just asked Chat GPT to name the best joke it had ever heard, and this is what I got: “Why don't scientists trust atoms anymore? Because they make up everything!”.

That joke follows a logical formula, its use of language is clever and it’s definitely a joke. Did I laugh? Not really, because I’m not four years old.

When Chat GPT can make me laugh like Billy Connolly, Del Boy and Rodney, Robin Williams or Chris Rock for example, then we’ll talk again.  

Great comedians are the world’s greatest communicators because they can find humour, irony, and injustice in just about anything you can imagine. They convey pain, empathy, compassion, and a whole host of beautiful catalysts to our imagination ignited by absurdity and disbelief. 

And then of course, there’s Josh Widdecombe.

But the point stands that the result of getting a glimpse into how other people see the world can be magical; enough to make you laugh out loud and smile thinking about how it made you feel for years afterwards. 

I would  argue that marketers are second on that list of world’s greatest communicators. Their superpower isn’t just to make you laugh, however, it is to make a human connection that convinces you to take action.

Albert's answer

AI does not yet have the ability to use imagination. And in the absence of that, AI can offer you independent marketing ideas that are of similar standard to its joke-telling ability.

It can’t yet dream up ideas that rival the Apple 1984 campaign, the Bud “Whassup” adverts. And do not tell me that AI is ready to spit out the words ‘Just Do it.’ Just don’t go there, seriously.

One day it will happen, or come close at least, because all of the above is being analysed and mapped as we speak - predicting the future by using logical process to mimic creativity.

But remember this, we are a complex theological, philosophical, and psychological phenomenon and as much as the human condition can be replicated, it can never be beaten.

If you’re still not convinced let me finish with a word from Einstein. He said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”.

He was a smart fella, Albert. I think he had a point.

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