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Creative Bloq
Creative Bloq
Joseph Foley

Could AI come up with an iconic ad campaign?

A screenshot from the Dumb Ways to Die ad campaign.

As creatives continue to try to work out what role generative AI could come to play in their workflows, there's been a lot of talk about how great it is for brainstorming ideas. Chat bots like ChatGPT can generate fresh, out-of-the-box solutions to a creative brief. At least that's the idea. The creator of one highly revered campaign decided to put it to the test.

Remember Dumb Ways to Die? Voted best advert of the decade in our Creative Bloq at 10 awards, the safety campaign created for Australia's Metro Trains became a global viral hit, extending beyond its target audience. Ben Lilley, chairman of McCann Australia, the agency behind the campaign, decided to see how ChatGPT would handle the brief today and used an AI image generator to visualise the results.

Lilley fed OpenAI's generative AI chatbot with the brief his agency was handed more than a decade ago. He then used Midjourney to visualise the results and Runway's Gen-2 text-to-video generation tool to animate them. I think we need a new expression for the vicarious embarrassment for an artificial intelligence that generated terrible ideas or content. AI cringe, as it were.

“Act as an awarded creative director working in a Melbourne ad agency in 2012," Lilley told ChatGPT, according to his post on LinkedIn. Metro Trains has briefed a low-budget railway poster campaign to change unsafe behavior in teens and young drivers. We don’t think posters will be effective with this audience though, who are more engaged by digital, mobile, social media and music channels." He specified a $200,000 budget and asked for three options for a “highly creative campaign", specifying that they shouldn’t feel like traditional public service announcements.

ChatGPT's ideas? A train platform music festival called Track Beats, in which artists would drop in safety messages as commuters "groove", an "addictive" Platform Puzzlers Mobile Game that rewards points for safe behaviour, and a "Boom-Beats Flash Mob Challenge" (yes, more groovy beats) enacted to the sound of the Metro Trains safety anthem “Don’t rush, don’t push, stay alive!”.

ChatGPT's ideas for the ad campaign, generated by Midjourney (Image credit: Ben Lilley / AI-generated)
(Image credit: Ben Lilley / AI-generated)
(Image credit: Ben Lilley / AI-generated)

Suffice it to say, the suggestions sound were very much of their time, and way off the mark. For one thing, railway-based flash mobs and raves sound like just the kind of thing Dumb Ways to Die was trying to discourage. Mediocre to the point of being painful, the descriptions make Chat GPT sound very "how do you do fellow kids", and none of them would have been remembered like McCann's Dumb Ways to Die, which is still notching up views today.

This is only one experiment, and it's possible that ChatGPT may have come up with some better suggestions after a bit of back-and-forth interaction and re-prompting. But it's another example that makes me wonder how useful generative AI is really going to be for this kind of brainstorming. After all, it can only generate ideas based on the mean of what's already been created, which may be why it tends to result in such cringey cliched results.

"[Chat GPT] would have to be a squillion times more advanced to make the tangential leap that the real campaign made," the branding expert Adrian Elton commented on Lilley's post. "AI doesn't have the nuance to understand all of the inter-contextual elements that made it a cut through and on-point campaign."

"I do believe that with the right amount of time, stimulus and prompting, under the supervision and direction of a highly experienced Chief Creative Officer and Chief Strategy Officer, we 'could' actually eventually get a LLM (along with an AI visual and video model) to produce something almost to the same standard as Dumb Ways To Die," Lilley added. "In doing so though, we'd effectively be replicating the process that successful creative teams and agencies follow today."

For more recent AI controversy, see how a school competition AI art winner sparked heated debate in Taiwan.

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