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Be More Human. Use More Robots.

Advertising Agency
Singapore, Singapore
INFLUENCER: Digitas' Maurice Riley talks inclusivity, under-representation and how artificial intelligence is helping marketers be more human

Two weeks have passed since Cannes Lions and I’ve gradually replaced my rosé haze with rose-coloured glasses on the future of creativity. But, of all the stats I’ve seen during and since, one has stuck with me the most. 


That’s the number of attendees at Cannes Lions from a minority background as reported by Adweek.

No wonder our industry has been lacking inclusive polices, behavioural insights from different kinds of people and collaboration between diverse communities. No wonder we struggle to tell truly diverse human stories. No wonder only 9% of Australian consumers feel that digital ads show diversity (according to a new study by Adobe).  

One common refrain from this year keeps coming back to my mind, 'be more human'. The topic was debated far beyond the walls of the Palais: how might marketers bring empathy and humanity back to creativity to conquer marketing’s biggest challenges and effect positive change?

Perspectives on how to be better humans ranged from matters of diversity and inclusion to the all-important questions around the ethical use of data. But the most contentious topic of them all was how broad use of A.I. and automation can throw creativity and data out of balance and diminish the human element of great creative.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Just over half of Australian consumers say advertising is more diverse than it was three years ago and two thirds agree their race or ethnicity is represented in ads they see. But only 7% of our ads position humans from diverse groups as a main protagonist. 

The challenges stemming from this lack of diversity on our screens aren’t just cultural, they have real commercial impact too. 56% of Australians say a lack of diversity would affect their perception of a brand and 29% are more likely to trust brands that have more ads that reflect the stories of all sorts of humans. 

Enter the robots.

A.I. and automation are the primary suspects in the death of humanity in advertising, but the irony is robots can save us from ourselves and help us be more human. Can machines come up with brilliant creative ideas that touch human emotions? No. But they can sift through mass amounts of data and gain unprecedented insight into underrepresented or misrepresented communities, driving the empirical understanding required to inspire ideas, build empathic connections and make positive changes in the world. 

As many of this year’s Cannes nominees proved, great things happen when A.I. and creativity collide. Three Cannes Lion winners stand out in particular, exemplifying the magic of marrying A.I.-enabled insights with a human touch.  

Burger King’s Traffic Jam Whopper showed how data can make marketing more human and creative. At the heart of idea was real-time people-based data, revealing a human need that Burger King used to make its creativity more helpful, rather than less.

Black & Abroad’s Go Back To Africa connects with a culture not native to the travel industry’s DNA, turning messages of hate into travel inspiration and using the power of data to directly address an underrepresented community while contributing to culture.

See Sound creates products with humans, not for them, giving the deaf community a renewed sense of freedom and control in their homes by enabling them to see sound. Developed using an A.I.-learning model powered by millions of sound samples from YouTube, and in constant collaboration with an underrepresented community, See Sound understood what's truly missing and developed a human-centric solution that profoundly impacts the lives of its users.

While there is still progress to be made in terms of representation, these three examples represent the future of embracing the power of data technology to turbocharge marketers’ understanding of the needs of diverse communities at scale, inspiring highly creative, curated, contextual and personal experiences with an A.I.-enabled human touch. 

Maurice Riley is head of strategy & analytics at Digitas Australia
Work from Digitas APAC