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Navigating creativity in a world of technology

Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand’s Executive Creative Directors, Jordan Sky and Lee Sunter, sit down with Idealog’s Bernadette Basagre to talk about how creativity can stay alive in a world where advanced technology is becoming the mainstream form of technology.

With the emergence of advanced tech entering new industries, where does creativity and innovation fit in?

Sky: I think the thing to remember is that new technologies themselves are evidence of both creativity and innovation. The bigger discussion, at least in marketing and advertising, is how we utilise it. As tech permeates new industries, creativity finds new avenues to express itself. What technology tends to do over time is fill the spaces where we weren’t being particularly innovative or original.

AI is definitely the buzzword of the moment. It seems like it’s everywhere, and every few minutes there’s someone new trying to disrupt yet another sector. But fears about the impending AI revolution aside, that’s the thing about technology – it forces us to look at what value we are bringing to the process and where that value resides. If a new tool comes along to automate part of the process we should view it as that, a tool.

But technology alone can’t surprise, at least not with intent. It can’t make creative leaps. There will always be a need for a someone with a spark, a tastemaker, some human who intentionally decides what they think is innovative or interesting and that others might like as well.

Sunter: At Saatchi we talk about creating ideas that are famous in culture, whether that’s all culture or subcultures. To do that you need to not only understand who you are speaking to, and how they are feeling, but also understand what they’re into or may not know they’re into.

Our latest campaign with Australia trading platform Pepperstone saw us going away from the usual of playing with technology but instead analysing the data and finding the human element. We took that and found an interesting off-beat way to cut through, counter to what the category usually does. Now the Traders and the category are talking about Pepperstone, we have a technology-based idea in the works that will show just how good they are.

New tools, for example the AI music generator that makes a song based on prompts, are removing the process of making music. Are tools like this detrimental in creating something new?

Sky: I think at its core, creativity adapts. AI and similar technologies are iterative, and they don’t create independently. It’s based on user prompts. So, again, there is still a human in the machine. While they may automate certain aspects, they also open doors to exploration and experimentation. Creatives should embrace these tools as supplements, not replacements. They can use them to streamline workflows, spark inspiration, or even as springboards for further creative exploration.

There’ll always be someone looking for efficiencies and trying to grab the lowest hanging fruit with the least amount of effort. But true creativity doesn’t happen without the human in the machine.

A couple years ago, we did a project for one of our clients, Tiger Beer, that involved teaming up a well-known band with an up and coming one to see what they’d make with a weekend in a studio together (and a few beers). I don’t think simply asking AI to output the result would have been nearly as interesting.

Jordan Sky & Lee Sunter.

Sunter: Tech like AI raises the floor not the ceiling. Take cameras in phones: they made everyone a better photographer, they didn’t make everyone a brilliant photographer. A good eye, a unique angle and an interesting subject does. So don’t rely on technology and algorithms to be the answer. Know what they can and can’t do and allow human creativity to be the answer.

We can take an odd leap based on that thing you saw in a laundromat, combined with a camera technique you saw in a French film from the 70’s, and make it something worth talking about.

Not sure technology can do that…yet. Maybe it will when they implant cameras in everyone’s eye.

Are these new tools helpful in urging creativity and innovation? If so, how could people use these tools?

Sky: Sure. As excited as I am about getting a camera in my eye, the pencil is an old piece of technology and it’s helpful in creating ideas too. Anything that democratises creative expression is a thumbs up in my book. But the tool isn’t the idea, just like the data isn’t the idea. It’s what we do with it.

We’re seeing it right now: campaigns that use AI for AI’s sake just to be part of the conversation and campaigns that use it to progress the brand’s place in culture. At Saatchi, we don’t focus on being first to market with the tech. As Lee mentioned, we’re a famous brand driven to chase work that can make our clients famous in culture. If that’s tech driven, great.

But more to the point, we look for human truths and compelling ideas for the brands we work with. Audiences need a reason to engage, whether you’re an automotive company like Toyota, a bank like Westpac or a not-for-profit looking to balance the gender divide like Global Women. More often than not, technology is in there somewhere. As exciting as that tech is, and how much hype there is around it, you need to land on the right side of insight.

Read more: Creative trends to look out for in 2024

Sunter: Pencil, paint brush or ‘too smart for its own good’ supercomputer, creativity puts tools to work in the beautifully expected way, and then in the ‘weirdly odd but works’ way, or it finds the answer in the default settings, like J Sky’s Albarn example. Either way, embrace it, use it, and break it – creatively of course. Not with a hammer.

How should creatives tackle this and heading forward, how do they remain creative?

Sky: Creatives have always succeeded by using insights and making new connections in the world around them. I think this still continues to be the case, and something Lee and I continue to get excited about. Great ideas, advertising or otherwise, are about using real insight to solve problems in new ways.

For example, 2023 was the first time FIFA Women’s World Cup would be held in this part of the world, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. FIFA knew we’d naturally have some home support for the two host teams, but what about the other 30 nations taking part, playing in stadiums across both countries?

We don’t have a massive, fanatical football following like other parts of the world, so to avoid a billion people across the globe tuning in to empty stadiums, we came up with an idea for FIFA that used technology to tap into people’s natural curiosity about themselves. We called in Fancestry, essentially a digital experience designed to connect Australians and New Zealanders with a team they weren’t born to support.

People’s connection results were displayed in the form of custom digital supporters’ jerseys made up proportionally of the teams they were found to have the most in common with. Then those results could be clicked on and explored, bringing them closer to the teams and helping bridge those connections of community – ultimately connecting them with team schedules and ticketing opportunities. It was a prime example of technology fuelling something creative and human.

Heading forward, as these tools are here to stay, how can people continue to nurture their creativity and innovation?

Sky: Experiences, experiences, experiences. We humans are drawn to them, and the more authentic the better. The machines will never replicate that because it will always be looking back, not looking forward. Not creating new. AI can write the next Briscoes ad based on all the ones written to date, but it’s never going to take that surprising leap to make sure it’s done differently to the last. If Hollywood has taught us anything, we humans have a great barometer for ‘that’s shit, I’ve seen it before’.

Sunter: Learn the tech. Then step away from the tech. Hang out with people, over lattes and muffins. Walk the dog. Or cat. Travel without earbuds. Watch ‘recommended by a friend’. ‘Recommended by a stranger’. ‘Recommended by nobody’. Rest. Doodle. Be bored. Then, when the idea finds you, work out an interesting way to make it famous in culture. The answer may be using that tech you learnt.

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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