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Meet the Man Behind McCann Japan’s AI Creative Director



McCann Millennials founder Shun Matsuzaka talks to LBB’s Laura Swinton what inspired the artificial intelligence experiment – and reassures us that it won’t take our jobs!

Meet the Man Behind McCann Japan’s AI Creative Director

The proud parents of this algorithmic creative were the four-member team of McCann Millenials, led by founder and Creative Planner Shun Matsuzaka. Shun, who started his career on the media side of the industry as a media buyer at UM Japan before becoming an interactive planner then moving over to the creative side of the industry, is well versed in the worlds of data and algorithms as well as creativity.

He had harboured an interest in machine learning and AI for years was triggered into action by a talk on how artificial intelligence is being used in several fields in the entertainment industry.

“It is generally believed that artificial intelligence can’t “create” or be effective in a creative field; however, many forms of entertainment are already being produced by algorithms. I learnt about what was happening in the entertainment world particularly music, TV programs and movies and soon started to think about what could we do in the advertising world, which is when I thought about doing something with commercials,” he says.
In order to bring his baby to life, Shun brought several expert midwives on board, including a data analyst, the AI development group at production house, AOI Pro., and a robot production company to help with the outer shell of the robot’s body. 

To build this digital brain, the team analyzed ten years’ worth of the award winning work from the local award show ACC CM Festivals. From this analysis, they developed an algorithm for creating emotionally moving or stimulating visuals. It was, understandably, a challenging process. As a first-of-its kind machine everything had to be figured out from scratch, including the format in which the data was fed into the machine.

With its shining plastic dome and protruding robotic arm, AI-CD β was never going to fit into the standard creative director uniform of Ray-Ban glasses and Stan Smiths – so in order to get the industry to take him seriously, Shun and his team needed to find a brave client. Thankfully, the team at Clorets Mint Tabs, a Mondelez Japan brand, were intrigued enough to give him a go. In order to make the experiment more appealing to the guinea pig clients, it was suggested that campaign would be framed as a competition between human creatives and AI-CD β – and no ordinary human, but respected TV writer Mitsuru Kuramoto. Each would create an ad and the public would decide which they preferred. And that came with a useful strategic side-effect for the brand.

“By making it a competition between human and AI, it meant that the viewer would focus even more on the message, and therefore the message’s penetration would be deeper and stronger. That’s how we convinced the client,” explains Shun, who adds that the unusual production made for an interesting experience for the client. “The client was very interested in the data based direction and seemed to enjoy the production process of making the commercial based on the AI direction.”

Unlike the recent Saatchi & Saatchi, which attempted to inject every step of the creative and production process with AI technology, from casting to editing, this project only relied on AI during the original creative conception phase. Everything else in the process of making both spots happened in a more ‘traditional’ way – all the better to isolate and compare the creative direction.

The final commercials were released in early June. One sees a balletic woman scrawling large kanji characters on the floor, while the other features a singing dog. It hasn’t been revealed which is which, so as not to bias the public. And after the results are collated in August, they will be fed back into the AI. “It will also evaluate and gain learnings from the result after the commercial is aired so that its precision will be improved on future projects,” says Shun.

Shun hopes the AI-CD could prove a useful objective voice in the creative process and intends to keep nurturing and refining it – as long as there are clients willing to get involved. “I believe that AI will provide an additional perspective that only an AI can, as it will be free of any bias that you would expect of a human being,” he says.

But AI and its use in creativity is a controversial topic – back in 2012 BETC Paris tried a similar-ish project when they created CAI (Creative Artificial Intelligence), with the hope of proving that nothing could beat human creativity. In the end they found it pretty proficient at churning out mediocre executions, and saw it as a wake-up call to lazy creatives.

Perhaps the biggest controversy is the potential to replace humans with machines. It’s not unthinkable – after all AI technology has already started to threaten to replace lawyers, with the chatbot that’s overturning parking tickets in New York and London.

So, err, isn’t Shun worried that he’s built a beast that might one day replace him and his team completely? Not so much. “AI-CD is created as a tool for us. In this case, we are having it compete with a human CD, but we are the ones using it, thus we will not be made redundant. It will supplement our work,” he says. “This will expand the creativity of human beings.”

Meet the Man Behind McCann Japan’s AI Creative Director
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Categories: Food, Confectionery

LBB Editorial, Fri, 15 Jul 2016 11:49:24 GMT