Publicis Groupe’s annual Happy Holidays video is back and this one features Marcel the AI Platform built by Microsoft. The boss mug this time sits on Marcel’s desk, but no one in the office seems to care about this robot that promises to help the agency people. The video has puzzled many. 

Marcel is mistaken for a mop, one human yells “loser” at this friendly agency robot and another insults the already dejected robot “you suck.” “Why create me if no one wants me,” the lonely robot wonders aloud. 

The video which is meant for employees and stakeholders of Publicis Groupe makes one wonder “for an advertising agency in the communications business, if you cannot convince your own employees to understand and utilize your AI super machine, why should anyone else trust or like it”, says Karthik Srinivasan, a Bangalore-based digital communications consultant and ex-Social Media Head at Ogilvy. 

The video’s self-deprecating humour mirrors the misconceptions and negative perceptions about machines. “Through self-deprecating humour the ad reflects the attitude of some advertising folk towards AI—which is not always enthusiastic enough,” says Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Soho Square. 

This video featuring Marcel comes alongside news that Marcel was one of the reasons why Publicis won the GSK account. Marc Speichert, chief digital officer of GSK Consumer Healthcare, said in an interview: “It (Marcel) built confidence that the holding company can assemble from its “People Cloud” the talent GSK wants.” 

This makes the ad further more disappointing because the video seems to indicate that “not even a single employee even within Publicis actually (a) knows what Marcel does (b) likes Marcel,” notes Srinivasan. 

It raises concern because integration of AI across business verticals is becoming important in the advertising industry just like in all other industries. But ad land is far from embracing and understanding data and machines. Commenting on the advertising industry’s understanding of AI, Ashok Lalla, an independent Digital Business Advisor, said, “It would be fuzzy at best with most people pretending to be at the leading edge of the creative-technology-data curve, but in reality be grappling to get a grip on things.” 

On the other hand, companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung, Intel and IBM have all been effectively communicating their life-changing AI solutions. One such masterful attempt this season has been from Google. The tech giant’s Christmas ad for Google Home starring Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister has gone viral on the internet. 

In the ad we see Macaulay Culkin as a grown up Kevin McCallister. And this time the audience watches what happens when Kevin finds that he has the house to himself, and the Google Assistant on his side. The voice assistant does the bidding of a 38-year-old man-child reliving his epic Christmas experience of safeguarding his home from the Wet Bandits. 

Intel too advertised its artificial intelligence solutions through an innovative print and OOH campaign a few months ago. The ads conceptualised by TBWA/Chiat/Day use the internet viral-style visual where the viewer is asked to spot the anomaly. The series of five ads through simple communication effectively explains that AI can find the oddity quicker than humans. Through five ads, Intel demonstrates the abilities of AI to help humans across various industries including farming, healthcare, manufacturing, and the police department.    

Samsung’s ad for Bixby, a voice assistant, took the emotional route to win the hearts of viewers. The ad shows people how the voice assistant can learn and imitate the voice of a human through the story of a mother who is suffering with Motor Neuron Disease leaves her voice for her daughter.  

Google, Intel, and Samsung use creative and engaging storytelling to speak directly to the consumer about specific AI solutions. IBM, on the other hand, takes a more measured approach of educating both businesses and the lay person about AI solutions. 

Breaking down the communication objectives for IBM on AI, Deepali Naair, Director – Marketing, India & South Asia, says, “Our ads have given many examples of business scenarios where AI is useful. Further, we showcase how AI augments various areas of business and helps organizations take data-driven decisions. Our communication task is to speak to enterprises and simplify the technology products and its uses for all kinds of businesses.”

Because of the myriad applications of AI and the general perception that machines are convoluted, IBM takes a rather pedagogical approach to make the technology relatable. “As a technology company, it is our responsibility that we demystify the applications of AI and its benefits to various stakeholders. The most important endeavor of such communication is to open the viewer’s mind to different use cases of AI in their daily life,” Naair explains.

The communication could be informative, emotional, or humourous, but the core mantra of demystifying AI and opening the minds of people to this emerging technology will be crucial in shaping the collective consciousness about artificial intelligence as we enter a brave new world.

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