AI ad that ‘writes itself’ in London bus shelters

by: Lucinda Southern on 23 July 2015

M&C Saatchi are experimenting with DOOH ads that evolve over time based on passer-by's reaction

“Could we, by only using technology, create the most attention grabbing ad in the world?” Antagonistic words sure to stir up emotion in any creative. The question, posed by David Cox, Chief Innovation Officer at M&C Saatchi, adds fuel to the fiery debate of technology versus creativity. This agency’s response is to hold its own experiment using digital out-of-home sites in Oxford Street, London.

In an interview about the campaign, Cox outlines the thinking behind the idea, “We asked, can we create an advert that writes itself?”

The agency is calling this the first artificially intelligent ad campaign, one that evolves and serves unique ads based on how people react to it.

The agency created a made up brand, something neutral and uninteresting, an instant coffee brand called Bahio, and a basic ad. They then create numerous different elements of the ad, copy, image, font and so on, that would make up the full creative, and different combinations of these are being served up over time creating multiple numbers of ads in different variations (see image).

Thanks to cameras placed above the ad sites, the agency can glean how people react to each ad, either positive, negative or neutral, and so can determine a level of engagement. Algorithms learn the different combinations that people ‘engage’ with and so iterate to create the optimum advert.

Cox explains the insight for the self-evolving ads come from Darwinian Theory, the generic algorithm tests each of the ad elements and ones that are unsuccessful are then extinct. What’s left, is “a new generation of ads with better performing genes.” A small number of these ad variations will also mutate at random so the next generation has a chance of improving over time, adding another more natural angel to the comparison.

The project, running in selected bus shelters for the next few weeks, is being carried out by Posterscope and Clear Channel too, and it’s a nod toward how digital out-of-home sites are seeing leaps in development, incorporating data feeds and driving response from passers-by.

And to concerned creatives, Cox says: “We are not suggesting a diminished role for creative but we know technology will be playing a greater part in what we do.”

Those who fail to adapt will be outpaced. It’s just survival of the fittest.