It’s too early for autonomous AI in advertising. Here’s why human ingenuity still matters.


AI is the backbone of the most significant advertising innovations of our time. Yet it cannot compete with human creativity. Until it does, a marriage of AI and human analytics is essential.

Artificial intelligence is the backbone of the most significant advertising innovations of the last decade. Modern marketers use smart digital platforms to design ad creatives, purchase media, and automate campaign deployment. AI is also playing an increasingly important role in advertising automation, helping advertisers to test, iterate and optimize performance. Yet many envision a brighter future – a future in which AI can independently run ad campaigns.

While that future is possible, today it is all hype. Even AI pioneers only entrust AI systems with specific problems. In the advertising industry, AI is mainly used for quantitative analysis because it cannot capture human emotion or creativity. In the meantime, the best publicity will be a marriage of AI and human ingenuity.

AI is a “worker assistant”

IBM defines AI like “the simulation of human intelligence” in machines programmed to mimic the actions and thoughts of humans. Today, this description is relevant: AI still mimics humans, only outperforming them in quantitative intelligence. But if AI can speed up analysis and eliminate human error, why not let AI run the show?

Because even according to scientists, AI is powerful but not yet perfect. Physicist Kai Polsterer sums it up by saying that AI-based systems are “hard assistants.” He cautions that researchers can only trust AI systems to solve specific problems, and that human oversight is a key part of the process. Astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski shares his sentiment. Schawinski calls his model of galaxies a “guessing machine”. Still, he said, “I have to come in as a human and say, ‘Okay, what kind of physics could explain this effect?

It is the same in advertising. The most effective platforms use AI to answer specific questions, with humans guiding the analysis and putting its findings into context. For example, let’s say we use AI to tell us which creation works best for a food delivery service. We can learn that sushi gets more clicks than burritos. We can even task an AI system to create more sushi ads. But we won’t understand why people prefer the sushi ad until a human points out that the burrito is wrapped in foil. Who is hungry looking at aluminum foil?

AI can’t talk about heart issues

So, for now, AI is a better assistant than a campaign manager. That said, advertising is less complicated than astrophysics. Could he take the driver’s seat earlier in our area?

Advertising is a science and an art. The era of the Mad Men is over, but the most successful campaigns still have a human history. Whether they touch our hearts, weave a cultural story or just make us laugh, the best advertisements use emotion. When it comes to AI, emotion is always the hardest nut to crack.

In a meeting along with Vox founder Ezra Klein, historian Yuval Noah Harari states that “most humans today do very specific things that an AI will soon be able to do better than us. Yet Klein retorts: “What human beings are qualified for [is] interact with other human beings. Harari asserts that “emotions are not mystical phenomena that only humans can read”. Yet, he admits, we’re not there yet.

Think about the most memorable advertising campaigns of the past decade. There is the infamous “Share a Coke” campaign which harnessed the human need for connection. Volkswagen has caused nostalgia with its Star Wars-themed Super Bowl commercial. Has always helped a generation to recover the expression “Like a girl”. The best ad campaigns tell a human-centric story, so it’s hard to substitute ones and zeros.

The model of AI in advertising is human-machine synthesis

AI can’t compete with humans in all areas, but innovation is not a zero-sum game. In advertising, the key is to use AI as the “hardworking assistant” that it is.

In practice, we can use AI to identify models in advertising creations, highlighting the most effective images, colors and slogans. Humans can guide the process by asking the right questions and putting the results into context. We can also use AI to generate hypotheses and speed up the process of creative iteration. Beyond creative optimization, AI can help marketers personalize campaigns, segment and target audiences, and dramatically improve ROI.

By synthesizing AI with human analysis, we make the best use of the tools at our disposal. We improve campaign performance, speed and scale with machine-generated insights while keeping an eye on the humanity that distinguishes good ads.

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Asaf Yanai
Asaf Yanai joined yellowHEAD as Vice President of Growth after more than a decade of marketing and business development experience. His previous roles include Business & Marketing Optimization Group Leader at Webpals Group, VP of Marketing at TrafficsLords by SingulariTeam and Head of Media Buying at Crossrider Plc. An entrepreneur at heart, Asaf graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2012 and later an MBA in Marketing from IDC Herzliya in Israel.

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