Buckle up: marketing campaigns get generative AI superpowers

With AI, marketers can now craft compelling campaigns near-instantly, marking a momentous shift away from generic strategies and heralding a new era in audience connections. The AI-powered future of marketing is shaping up to be a real thrill ride — are you ready?
Industries: Marketing
  • Take a digital break: KitKat campaign adds AI twist to timeless tradition
  • IBM unleashes creativity in ‘Let’s Create’ campaign
  • Celestial celebrations: a virtual journey through McDonald’s AI worlds
  • Pioneering use of AI image generation in fashion brand Etro’s spring launch
  • Beauty giant Dove says no to AI-created female imagery

Marketing is undergoing a seismic shift, thanks in no small part to the rise of generative AI technology. Long a dream for many software engineers, this technology is now empowering marketers to streamline content creation, enhance creativity, and deliver personalised experiences to their target audiences like never before. At the heart of this generative AI boom lies a new class of machine learning models that can generate human-like text, graphics, audio, and videos simply by analysing existing data patterns. Pioneering models like ChatGPT and DALL-E exemplify this groundbreaking technology and are poised to redefine the way marketing firms around the world approach content creation and consumer engagement. Imagine a future where marketing campaigns that once demanded months of meticulous planning and execution can be launched in mere weeks — or even days. Indeed, generative AI empowers marketers to craft compelling narratives quickly, tailor messaging to specific audience segments with laser precision, and drive engagement and conversions like never before. The era of content bottlenecks and one-size-fits-all approaches could well be over.

The potential of generative AI in marketing is impossible to ignore. According to a McKinsey report from June 2023, this technology could contribute a staggering $4.4 trillion to annual global productivity, with the marketing and sales sectors poised to capture a substantial portion of that value. Furthermore, generative AI could boost marketing productivity by an impressive 5 to 15 per cent of total marketing expenditure, the equivalent of $463 billion annually. Unsurprisingly, the adoption of generative AI in marketing is quickly gathering momentum. A 2023 research study featured on Statista reveals that a remarkable 73 per cent of US marketers have already used generative AI tools — including chatbots — in their professional endeavours. With projections indicating that the market for AI in this industry will soar from $15.84 billion in 2021 to a staggering $107.5 billion by 2028, it’s inescapable that this technology will fundamentally reshape the way marketers conduct their business. In this article, we will explore some of the most captivating examples of generative AI-powered marketing campaigns and consider what they might tell us about the future of this dynamic sector.

“’Have A(I) Break’ connects one of the most enduring brand platforms in advertising to something deeply relevant in culture. It’s shining a light on a simple, universal human truth that it doesn’t matter how much things change, we’re always better when we take a break”.

Courage co-founder and CCO Joel Holtby

Taking breaks goes digital: KitKat’s campaign adds AI twist to timeless tradition

In January 2023, Nestle launched an AI-generated marketing initiative for the chocolate brand KitKat that whimsically melds tradition with the cutting-edge. The campaign, dubbed ‘Have A(I) Break’, humorously suggests that even AI could benefit from taking breaks. It was inspired by recent research from Google DeepMind, provocatively suggesting that allowing AI systems to ‘put their feet up’ could significantly improve their performance​. If it all sounds a bit familiar, that is no mistake: it cleverly riffs on the iconic ‘Take a Break’ slogan that has successfully nudged folks to pause and indulge in a chocolate treat for the better part of a century. Developed in partnership with the creative minds at Toronto-based marketing firm Courage, this inventive campaign has graced screens throughout Canada — you can find it on the KitKat YouTube channel.

The commercial’s narrative unfolds in a manner that’s both engaging and enlightening, depicting our daily interactions with AI — that is to say, posing endless questions and expecting instantaneous answers. Then comes the pivotal twist: proposing a momentary break for our digital assistant. The result? A staggering increase in accuracy, from 30 per cent to a remarkable 60-70 per cent. This entertaining little arc doesn’t just make us crave a bar of chocolate; it also underscores the potential benefits of pacing technology’s workload.

Despite the imperfections in AI-generated adverts, KitKat’s approach celebrates the trial and error in harnessing AI’s potential, all while maintaining a lighthearted tone. Courage cofounder and CCO Joel Holtby said: “’Have A(I) Break’ connects one of the most enduring brand platforms in advertising to something deeply relevant in culture. It’s shining a light on a simple, universal human truth that it doesn’t matter how much things change; we’re always better when we take a break”. Ultimately, the campaign illustrates KitKat’s commitment to innovation and its playful embrace of technological advancements, reinforcing the joy found in exploring new frontiers.

IBM unleashes creativity in ‘Let’s Create’ campaign

The bold reveal of IBM’s ‘Let’s Create’ campaign marks the multinational technology company’s most ambitious brand initiative in over a decade. This strategic launch not only underscores IBM’s dedication to innovation and collaborative solution development, it also aims to spotlight the integration of the generative AI tool Adobe Firefly into its creative process. The goal? To showcase IBM’s capacity to co-create technology solutions while also demonstrating how AI shakes up the conceptualisation, production, and dissemination of marketing materials. Leveraging Adobe Firefly, IBM generated an extensive array of over 200 assets and 1,000 marketing variations, culminating in a remarkable 26-fold engagement surge and capturing the interest of key C-suite decision-makers’ interest. This venture into generative AI signifies a pivotal shift for IBM — particularly in enhancing its marketing strategies and supporting client projects through IBM Consulting. Adobe Firefly is truly the cornerstone of this transformation, offering a reliable and innovative solution for commercial content creation. It propels IBM to the forefront of the industry, setting a new standard for efficiency and creativity in the digital landscape.

Billy Seabrook, IBM Consulting’s Global Chief Design Officer, emphasised the groundbreaking nature of this integration, stating: “We have started leveraging Adobe Firefly to revolutionise client experiences through AI-powered design, while also streamlining our internal creative workflows. With Firefly, our 1,600 professional designers within the IBM Consulting experience design team can shift their focus from mundane tasks to devising innovative design solutions with AI, surpassing client expectations”. This strategy empowers IBM’s creatives and marketers to devote more time to brainstorming and innovation. By adopting generative AI tools like Adobe Firefly, IBM has significantly boosted productivity and accelerated market delivery, redefining excellence in content supply chain optimisation. Furthermore, IBM’s initiative underscores the critical importance of trustworthiness in AI applications, as highlighted in their subsequent ‘Trust What You Create’ campaign. This initiative spotlights the potential challenges of generative AI, advocating for its thoughtful and balanced use and delving into the technology’s potential pitfalls. Using a kaleidoscope of visuals, the campaign crafts a realm where the surreal becomes the norm. Imagine encountering a ‘drift fish’, a whimsical hybrid of a hamster sporting fish fins. This peculiar creation, among others, serves as a metaphor for the various challenges in AI, such as bias, noncompliance, and the chaos of siloed data. At the same time, these vibrant and lively illustrations highlight the unexpected turns in the journey with generative AI and paint a picture of the thrilling path ahead.

Celestial celebrations: a virtual journey through McDonald’s AI worlds

This Chinese New Year, McDonald’s Hong Kong embraced the future with its pioneering use of generative AI in an integrated campaign—a first for the brand. In partnership with DDB Group Hong Kong, the campaign built on the creative momentum of last year’s ‘Raise Your Arches’ initiative. It invited audiences into imaginative McDonald’s universes, enriched by the appearances of Warner Music artists and local celebrities such as Bowie Woo and Helena Law, who “raised their arches” in a gesture that mirrored the iconic McDonald’s logo. Running from February 9th up to the 20th, the campaign’s centrepiece was a vibrant video that began with a bang — fireworks heralding the opening of an AI-crafted McDonald’s restaurant. The spectacle unfolded with appearances from beloved personalities like MC Cheung, alongside surprising entrances by Fung, Law, Panther Chan, Gareth T., and the local band Dear Jane aboard a UFO. This collective celebration ushered viewers through a series of enchanting McDonald’s worlds, echoing the brand’s vision for an even happier 2024.

The campaign’s innovative approach extended beyond the digital realm, making a physical mark on Hong Kong’s brick-and-mortar landscape. From the bustling ‘travellator’ linking Hong Kong Station to Central to the LED billboard near Harbour City, McDonald’s invited passersby into its celebratory world, capturing the essence of the festive season in one of the city’s most frequented areas. Tina Chao, chief marketing and digital customer experience officer at McDonald’s Hong Kong, encapsulates the spirit of this campaign: “It’s been fun exploring the possibilities with generative AI and how it can complement our brand. We believe the visual interest and impact of AI has added extra flavours to the celebration in this Chinese New Year campaign, capturing the joy and sense of hope and possibilities”. This statement underscores McDonald’s innovative foray into generative AI, highlighting a blend of tradition and technology that promises to redefine festive advertising.

Pioneering use of AI image generation in fashion brand Etro’s spring launch

In February 2024, Italian luxury fashion house Etro made waves with the launch of an innovative advertising campaign for their Spring 2024 capsule collection. In a creative integration of advanced technology and high fashion, the campaign made ingenious use of artificial intelligence to produce its visuals. Directed by Marco De Vincenzo and AI artist Silvia Badalotti, the campaign leveraged generative AI capabilities to create images depicting dreamlike, surreal scenes related to the conceptual theme of ‘Nowhere’. Badalotti provided text descriptions, which the AI system then turned into synthetic digital visuals, seamlessly blending familiar elements with fantastical, alien components. The resulting campaign photographs show Etro’s Spring 2024 designs and accessories modelled against these AI-generated backdrops of utopian landscapes, cosmic starscapes, and lush greenhouse-like environments teeming with exotic vegetation.

The models appear alongside fanciful, otherworldly characters and architectural forms that simultaneously intrigue and disorient. Etro described the AI-crafted visuals as occupying a space “beyond biology and beyond logic” — an uncanny aesthetic territory situated somewhere between the recognisable and the alien. While undoubtedly eye-catching and imaginative, the overarching intent was to showcase the brand’s latest clothing and accessories in an innovative, attention-grabbing manner that leverages generative AI’s unique capabilities. The campaign demonstrates how leading fashion brands are pioneering novel applications of cutting-edge technologies like AI image generation. By harnessing these powerful creative tools, Etro has produced a successful marketing campaign that is both mesmerising and distinctly modern, generating significant buzz and attention for Etro across social media and in the press and representing a new frontier for fashion advertising in the age of advanced AI.

“It is Dove’s mission to support more inclusive beauty representation by breaking down industry bias and broadening the definition of beauty so that everyone can have a positive experience with the way they look. To do this, we are constantly identifying potential new threats to real beauty and working to disarm them”.

Kathryn Fernandez, senior director of purpose and engagement at Dove

Beauty giant Dove says no to AI-created female imagery

While many brands eagerly embrace generative AI to craft visually striking campaigns, Dove is swimming against the tide. The iconic beauty company is taking a deliberately different approach by completely eschewing the use of AI-generated or AI-manipulated imagery of women in their advertising. In a bold move commemorating two decades of their revolutionary ‘Real Beauty’ platform, Dove has become the first major beauty brand to ban AI-generated women from their campaigns entirely. Their powerful new initiative, ‘The Code’, highlights the toxic potential for AI tools to negatively impact societal beauty standards and shatter the self-confidence of women and girls worldwide. The thought-provoking campaign illustrates how conventional beauty prompts fed into generative AI churn out a disturbingly narrow, homogenised and fundamentally unrealistic depiction of women. However, when instructed to create visuals “according to Dove Real Beauty” instead, the AI produces strikingly authentic, diverse and inclusive representations that embody Dove’s empowering vision. The campaign culminates with Dove’s resolute pledge never to use AI to create or distort imagery of real women.

This principled stance builds directly on Dove’s 20-year crusade to broaden narrow beauty ideals and boost self-esteem, sparked by their groundbreaking 2004 global study titled ‘The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report’ by Dr. Nancy Etcoff, Harvard University professor and author of ‘Survival of the Prettiest’, and Dr. Susie Orbach, author of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’. The report revealed that only 2 per cent of women globally consider themselves to be beautiful. Their latest research indicates that, while beauty standards have evolved to be more inclusive across gender, race and body types, unrealistic expectations around aspects like weight, curves and athleticism still persist. Alarmingly, 39 per cent of women feel pressured to digitally alter their looks due to the deluge of edited imagery online — even when everybody knows it is AI-generated. By taking this firm position against AI-generated female imagery in advertising, Dove is attempting to quell a disturbing trend before it causes further harm to real people. They hope other brands will follow their lead on this sensitive issue impacting women globally. Kathryn Fernandez, Dove’s senior director of purpose and engagement, explains: “It is Dove’s mission to support more inclusive beauty representation by breaking down industry bias and broadening the definition of beauty so that everyone can have a positive experience with the way they look. To do this, we are constantly identifying potential new threats to real beauty and working to disarm them. With 90 per cent of the content we see expected to be AI-generated by 2025, we knew we needed a firm response”.

Wrapping it up: a final perspective

The rise of generative AI in marketing is exciting and promising, but it’s still very early days. As this powerful technology continues to advance, there’s huge potential for brands to supercharge their creativity, streamline content production, and deliver more personalised experiences than ever before. But it won’t always be smooth sailing, as responsible development that preserves authenticity, inclusivity, and ethical standards will be crucial going forward. Innovative early movers like Dove are already getting ahead of potential risks by taking a firm stance against AI manipulation of real people’s appearances.

Other brands will likely follow suit on sensitive issues where generative AI could negatively impact consumer self-perceptions or societal values. The possibilities are tantalising, but the road ahead has yellow lights flashing. As generative AI evolves, key questions remain: How might it reshape marketing norms and consumer expectations? What amazing new creative frontiers could it unlock? And perhaps most importantly, how can marketers harness its power responsibly to build deeper brand-consumer connections? Buckle up, because the AI-powered future of marketing is shaping up to be a thrilling ride.

Industries: Marketing
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