Generative artificial intelligence (genAI) has been on everyone’s mind for months, and creative folks are no exception. It’s been buzzed about ad nauseum at events like the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2023. Adweek is accepting entries for its first annual AI Awards, to be announced in November. Talk about it is EVERYWHERE.

Here at Merkle, we’re doing far more than talk about it. Our performance creative teams are in the trenches, using AI to enhance our output — not just for our own amusement or to compete for awards, but for our clients’ benefit. And we’re not merely speculating about it, the way some CEOs, politicians, and tech pundits have been doing. 

We’re making AI work — specifically, work for us and our clients.

AI is an enhancement — not replacement — for creative people

Despite all the ballyhoo about it potentially taking over creative jobs, genAI is another powerful tool in our toolkit. It’s not a substitute for the wisdom and skill of an experienced creative professional. Granted, it’s a super cool tool, but nonetheless, a tool that accomplishes nothing on its own. It’s as much regenerative as it is generative.

And in the hands of an imaginative, strategic craftsperson like my colleagues, it can be a sophisticated tool for shaping a work of art that meets an objective. I’ve always felt an effective ad is a beautiful balance of science and art. AI is simply helping us achieve that balance on a higher level, a little faster.

Harnessing the science effectively through human oversight

In our effort to blend responsible use of AI with our innovative impulses, we’ve developed a helpful set of corporate guidelines, which cover everything from ideation through attribution protocol to final approvals.

Our guidelines and best practices are available and applicable to all our creative staff. They get rolled out in all-hands meetings and are documented on a dedicated internal site. There’s an outline of prompt principles to get the party started. Our growing list of relevant use cases extends far beyond creative, encompassing a wide range of tasks and goals from conducting research to summarizing notes. We share resources and insights to help our teams understand and leverage the expanding choice of AI tools, all to supercharge efficiency and creativity in service to our clients.

Our corporate considerations for AI use start with “Keep Humans in the Loop.” This tool can merely dredge the internet for what already exists; it has no perception of what is artistic or unique. And we understand there are limitations, such as how AI models can “hallucinate” facts, so we know better than to trust any output for information accuracy. 


Bringing the art to life with human understanding

Our teams treat AI as an idea starter, tireless assistant, and/or iteration accelerator without relying on it for end-to-end creation and completion. It can’t discern quality or how closely a headline or image truly captures a brand’s voice, tone, or look, or whether it meets the creative brief for a specific project. It still takes a seasoned professional to judge and finesse the work.

When considering AI output and how to refine it, we ask ourselves questions like these:

  • Is it accurate? Succinct? On brand? Appealing?
  • Does it convey the intended message in an appropriate format?
  • Will it generate the desired response?

And then we strategically edit, adjust, critique, and tweak until the asset we’re creating is just right. We’re committed to applying our creativity and effort to ensure that any AI-inspired output we propose becomes original and ownable.

Most of our clients are still in the early stages of genAI adoption, so I’m not going to reveal examples of what’s being developed with this new tool yet — but we’re excited to use it for brands across a variety of industries, from retailers and consumer package goods to financial and automotive services. Among our discoveries:

  • Writers can reduce first-draft timelines by 35% or more, while also using AI to find new ways to say the “same old thing.”
  • Designers can generate multiple images more quickly to convey a selection of concepts more efficiently, while upleveling Photoshop, Illustrator, and other skills.
  • Studio teams can speed up large-scale online and offline production work — including alterations, resizing, and versioning — by 50% or more.

In other words, by employing the tool of AI, we can delegate it to handle the more time-consuming tasks, freeing us up to work smarter — and focus more on true ideation, curation, and cultivation. That means better outcomes for our teams, our clients, and the end customers we all ultimately serve.