AI vs. Creativity

Why the “Fight” Only Hurts Marketers.

“Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

The above is a quote from author Clifford Stoll.

You’ve likely never heard of him, and here’s why:

Good Old-Fashioned Naysaying

The early days of the internet were fraught with imperfection. Web development was in its cluttered infancy, e-commerce was a matter of distant science fiction, and searching for information was a nightmare.

Like any new technology, the internet was a bit of a fixer-upper.

But the reason why you’ve never heard of Clifford Stoll is because Clifford Stoll, like many of today’s influencers, spent a lot of time kicking the newborn invention. Where some worked to improve, he spoke to diminish. Where some saw potential, he saw an opportunity to take shots at those who saw potential.

When Nicholas Negroponte, then director of the MIT Media Lab, predicted the rise of ebooks and digital news media, Clifford Stoll called bullshit. When asked about the future of online commerce, Clifford Stoll scoffed and said, “Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.” I wonder if he’s ever shopped on Amazon.

(Today, Clifford spends his time selling blown glass Klein bottles out of a basement crawlspace in his home. Ironically, none of us would even know that if it weren’t for the internet.)

It’s a tale as old as tech, and folks like Clifford will enjoy their freedom of inconsequential speech until the end of the human story.

It’s a case of good old fashioned naysaying, and it’s currently one of the marketing world’s greatest roadblocks.

Doom and Duh: The Case of AI vs. Marketing

There are two general categories of naysayers when it comes to AI and marketing.

First are the doomsayers who believe that AI will be the death of creativity in marketing. To their understanding, machine learning is less of a decision-making tool and more of a robotic overlord —literally, a tool that makes the decisions.

The workflow goes:

  1. Machine says jump.
  2. Hapless marketer jumps.
  3. Profit.

Second are those who won’t go as far as to say AI will be the death of marketing, but take a lot of care to remind us that AI should be used in moderation.

As if we needed telling. As if the power of machine learning might corrupt even the most virtuous marketer into forgetting that there’s an art to sales and marketing.

#Digicon2018 saw a lot of these types: visionaries who single-handedly prevented the decay of the marketing profession by reminding people that it takes emotion to sell a product. To their credit, it’s hard enough to become a Captain of Industry —but these people achieved the rank of Captain Obvious along the way.

As a result, the landscape for discussing the future of marketing is full of doom and duh. Half the room is shouting No hope! and the other half is begging to be told, No shit!

For marketers, this all poses a major problem: the idea that firms should take it slow and approach AI with caution.

Working in a country where SEO and data-driven marketing have only just begun to gain traction, I can say definitively that caution is the least of our problems.

We aren’t flying too close to the sun —on the contrary, we’ve barely taken off. If you look at the global landscape, we’re falling far behind other countries in terms of what we can (and should) accomplish. While comparable businesses in technologically progressive countries are securing their advantages for 2020, we’re stuck debating the problems of 2010.

Overpopulation on Mars

Don’t get me wrong, it pays to be cautious when developing new technology. There are ethical concerns and externalities to consider, but that’s all far beyond the scope of the “Creativity vs AI” debate.

The thought leaders worrying about AI undermining creativity need to take a look at yesterday’s news: creativity is expected to be in high demand in 2020 (right behind critical thinking and complex problem solving), as per the World Economic Forum.

This can’t be right. The algorithm said to use our feelings.

The voices of professional reason lecturing us on the importance of creativity in the face of data should take a page from any of the dozens of disruptors who’ve made compelling –and yes, creative– ads and products through the strategic use of data.

Put simply, the rest of the world is so far past the problems dreamed up by today’s Clifford Stolls that the hesitation to upskill is doing us more harm than good.

Our legacy industries are suffering from a wide competitive gap, and it’s only a matter of time before stubborn marketing agencies lose business to younger, more agile firms who know how to get with the times.

It’s a sad story, told into being by people who are either afraid of change, or comfortable being the biggest fish in a stagnating pond.

I’d say that the debate between creativity and AI is moot and academic, but that would be insulting to academics. They’re worrying about overpopulation on Mars when we’ve barely made it past the moon, so to speak. The ultimate irony is, the creatives most afraid of being left behind by AI are those who lack the creativity to use it.

Failure to launch?

Try failure to think.


If you think learning is a better use of time than shouting at imaginary problems, why not sign up for our Masterclass? We’ll teach you how to solve problems instead of complaining about them.