Wariness among creative and strategists to employ generative AI and other AI solutions is understandable, with some even viewing the use of it as a ‘cheat’. Kathryn Orr, brand strategy director at Designit, advocates for more exploration and experimentation with AI in order to get to the widest possible scope for ideas.

In his new book, Our AI Journey, OpenAI’s Sam Altman makes a startling statement: “95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists and creative professionals for today will easily, nearly instantly and almost no cost, be handled by the AI… images, videos, campaign ideas? No problem.” Little surprise then that an overwhelming number of creatives have misgivings about the use of artificial intelligence – specifically, generative AI – in their process.

In a recent Designit poll, carried out among 1,200 creatives, 84% of respondents view AI as merely a helpful assistant, while a significant minority believe strongly that using AI as part of the creative process amounts to cheating. One respondent likened AI to “an enthusiastic junior prospect with exceptional math skills.”

AI: The 'anti-hero'?

The misgivings over AI stem from an inherent resistance to change, especially with a relatively unknown entity. The drawbacks to AI, from lack of transparency to hallucinatory tendencies to bias, are well documented. So creatives’ concerns are understandable, given the black box surrounding most AI programs, many of which are being churned out with barely a nod to quality output.

That’s not to say creatives shouldn’t be challenged.

A strength of creatives and strategists is the desire to push boundaries, evolve, collaborate, and create links and concepts that might not be apparent or obvious. The technology has debuted onto the scene, fearlessly established its staying power, and is now testing different use cases to see where its value and impact lie. Its vast potential is clear – and it is the creative community that now needs to be fearless when it comes to using it.

Change and collaboration are in the creative community’s DNA – we know in our bones that no one wins awards by playing it safe. The creation of a unique, engaging and creative concept based on emotional depth, personal expression and deep human insight is what makes us stand out. It’s also what makes us tough to replace. While AI today may be the worst it’s ever going to be, as it is so far mainly only capable of repurposing and recombining, we must become early adopters and experimenters in the technology.

Embracing the enabler

There are significant advantages to engaging with this tech at this stage – the primary one being that we can help shape its development to enable bigger and better work as a tool to support (not replace) the creative process.

At the very basic of levels, AI requires intelligent, effective conversation starters to deliver meaningful results. To generate the right prompt takes talent that only a human mind can bring.

Similarly, even the most sophisticated Large Language Model (LLM) cannot write an impactful creative brief. It requires input based on conversation and inspiration, from lived experiences. My mental image of the ‘perfect’ execution of new packaging for a snack brand, for example, is certainly not yours – and neither would be brought forward by AI working on its own.

Where AI thrives in the creative process is to open new fields of exploration faster than we humans can do on our own. For example, a creative may be able to list 10 or 20 different voice and tone directions but when presented with that initial prompt, AI can offer hundreds in mere seconds, covering a vast range to explore.

From that point, the human element re-enters the room: it is then down to the creative to explore deeper among those options to discover where the nuance lies and create an original angle and interpretation that best serves the brand.

A tool, not a cheat code

Rather than viewing Generative AI as a cheat, we should consider its potential as a tool – albeit faster and more intelligent than most other tools in our existing arsenal. There is an argument for brands and agencies to invest in upskilling teams to use it as effectively as possible, in the same way marketing teams upskilled on digital and social media in the 2010s.

The more repeated and consistent interaction we have with these particular tools, the more we can enhance their output and improve their reputation.

There is a significant benefit when viewing Generative AI as a source for collaboration because it offers 12 million brains in the room at once rather than 12. It enables creatives to get out of their heads and get a full, 360-degree view of the challenge. If inspiration comes from lived experiences, AI can help us get into a different mindset and break out of our echo chambers – which then challenges creatives and strategists to be better.

Currently, it shines brightest in the discovery phase, helping to smooth out the creative process by building out potential paths to explore and eliminating the undesirable options faster – giving teams a larger space to ideate from and get to insights.

To counter Altman with a little Mark Twain paraphrase: there is no such thing as a new idea. Instead, we can turn old ideas into new and curious combinations, but they are “the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

All creative ideas are born from lived experiences and learned understanding. AI is simply another kaleidoscope – another tool to help sort through the chaff to come up with a new combination that, perhaps, has not been previously explored.

In short, as creatives and strategists, we need to lean into being brave. It’s this bravery that’s driven us as a discipline this far, and what will ensure we continue to create the best, human-centric, work possible.