Magazine article Marketing

Is There an Algorithm for Creativity?

Magazine article Marketing

Is There an Algorithm for Creativity?

Article excerpt

Algorithms that mine our data are said to know more about us than we know ourselves. Nicola Kemp asks what the implications of this might be for brands.

Algorithms are a force of nature. In an age when everything, from architecture to the jobs we are offered, the films we watch and the books we read, is governed by algorithms, their all-encompassing power is increasingly difficult to ignore. For marketers, the intersection of big data and technology is providing unparalleled insight into consumers' behaviour - a shift that some believe could lead to a revolution of the entire creative process.

It is widely accepted that creativity cannot be emulated by machines, but are we naive to believe this? The advertising and marketing industries are at pains to protect the processes by which creative thinking is born, but can the creative process now be automated?

People who define themselves as 'creative' find it intrinsically difficult to take an objective view of the power and possibilities of algorithms. However, the fact is that an algorithm could legitimately write this article and, arguably, do a better job. US company Narrative Science has built a set of algorithms that build well-styled and grammatically correct sports reports based on the data related to each game; they are used by a range of media companies, including broadcaster Big Ten Network. By this logic, algorithms can be more productive than any journalist.

Christopher Steiner, author of Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World, says the story of the next 20 years will be the tale of big data and algorithms. 'We are at a giant fork in the arc of humanity (and the question is) just how much will we allow algorithms to take over?' For marketers, it is a question that cannot be ignored.

Big data is dead

In many ways, the rise of the algorithm is a reaction to the empty rhetoric of big data. 'Big data is dead; gathering information for information's sake is not enough. We need to make data useful, and that's where algorithms come into their own,' says Jerome Courtial, head of strategy at digital agency We Are Social.

In the marketing industry, the rise of the algorithm is all about a new breed of intuitive technology that understands consumers' buying habits and makes relevant recommendations. While computer automation should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all solution to the data mountain, many of the world's most innovative companies, from Facebook to Netflix, have used algorithms to better collate behavioural data as a means to improve the way they target their consumers as individuals.

Algorithmic autonomy

Mihkel Jaatma, managing director of Realeyes, a company that measures facial expressions and quantifies consumers' emotional reactions via devices such as webcams, says: 'We can measure emotion on a large scale and match this with performance data to predict business outcomes. As the technology becomes more adaptive and intuitive, it will become a bit like Minority Report, as we will use more live emotional feedback.'

Now that marketers can effectively plug into 'a Google for emotions', not to mention the ever-widening range of software available, they are embracing the power of the algorithm. James Kirkham, co-founder of digital strategy agency Holler London, says algorithms are playing a greater role in the creative process, with a growing number of agencies using algorithmic analysis to underpin the creative process.

He explains: 'Where once the creative sat aside from those who were listening and analysing, only being briefed at a later date, now the creative sits alongside those listening to communities, mining data and forming thoughts based on analysis, interaction and algorithms. Speed of response is now so vital that the algorithm at the heart of the cycle can trigger a creative cue that will be tested and put up online in a matter of minutes. …

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