Robot Revolution: How Good Are AI Ads?

At the end of last year, Lexus enjoyed an advertising PR coup – they announced the first ad written entirely by AI, for their ES based range which use a number of AI-based systems.

Like most AI projects, there was a certain amount of black-boxy, secret-saucy machine learning magic involved, and we have to take the brand’s word for it that they stuck to the AI-produced script. The minute-long spot, “Driven By Intuition”, was received with curiosity in the ad press, and aired in cinemas and very briefly on business TV.

Most of the coverage offered some opinion on whether the ad was good or not. (Thanks to its Oscar-winning Director, it certainly looks good.)

But it didn’t ask the more awkward and more interesting question – how good is it compared to human ads?

With close to 30,000 US and UK TV ads tested for Ad Ratings, including over 200 Lexus commercials, we’re in a good position to answer that.

IS THE AD GOOD?

Our topline results for “Driven By Intuition” suggest it’s a pretty average piece of work. It gets 2-Star – so we’d predict only a modest long-term contribution to growth. Its Spike score (predicting short-term impact) is only a touch above average. It does score well on Brand Fluency – people know it’s a Lexus ad.

So far, so blah. But remember the AI contribution to the ad was its script – the storyline. And when we look at its second-by-second emotional development we see “Driven By Intuition” gets a lot right.

It introduces negative emotion – fear, when the car crashes – then resolves it. It offers a jump in happiness near the end, and big peaks of surprise. There aren’t enough of these positive emotions to push past the high level of neutrality. But the shape of the ad is right for a strong, emotional story.

CAN HUMANS DO BETTER?

All of which is pointing to a comforting conclusion – nice try, AI, but no e-cigar. But how true is that?

The power of Ad Ratings is that it lets you compare ads across your brand and category. We can use it to see exactly how good “Driven By Intuition” is as a car ad.

We’ve tested over 6,000 automotive ads. Lexus’ AI-scripted one comes out as more effective than 74% of them. So while it’s nowhere near the most emotional and memorable car ads out there, it’s certainly better than the norm. Perhaps human creatives do have something to worry about.

"A moderate 2-Star ad written by a machine ends up considerably better than most commercials that make it to the screen"

A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE?

“Driven By Intuition” claims to offer a provocative look at the future of advertising.

But what it actually does is shed light on the present.

The fact is, most ads that air only get 1-Star: they won’t drive any long-term brand growth. In that context, a moderate 2-Star ad written by a machine ends up considerably better than most commercials that make it to the screen.

That’s the bad news for humans. The good news is that the tweaks needed to get “Driven By Intuition” out of its 2-Star rating are ones which humans could easily feel and make. A stronger early story to reduce neutrality. More eye-contact and humanity between the cast, to help the ad make those right-brain connections. A little less reliance on surprise and more happiness in the moody closing shot.

The future of video advertising may involve AI scripting. But more likely is that we’ll use analytics to identify particular tricks, elements and content combinations which trigger delight in viewers. Then we’ll leave it to humans to supply the real magic which weaves those into work that builds brands.

That way we might build a future which works better than our present, where most of the ads aren’t made by machines – but at 1-Star, over half might as well be.

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