I was out having dinner recently enjoying what you may call a well-lubricated conversation. You know the kind of vibe, a bunch of people from creative companies explaining the mechanisms of the world to each other.
If you’d stumbled into the scene a year ago the topic of conversation would, obviously, have been the metaverse. Six months on: the collapse of crypto. But being summer 2023 the loud, impassioned, earnest discussion was, of course, about AI. And, given the fact that I have just spent the last few months immersed (professionally!) in beer, the particular aspect of AI we were discussing led to THAT beer commercial.
London production company Private Island used Stable Diffusion, Control Net and Runway Gen 2 to create the fake ad, which became a viral sensation in May 2023.
You know the one. The AI-produced freak-fest of Chris-Cunningham style gurning jaws, David-Lynch-esque mutant hands and surreal, melting receptacles. And of course, the fire. Who could forget the fire? (More on that shortly).
I have to admit, my initial position was the conventional one. You may have expressed it yourself. It’s the opinion you’ve seen repeated in the reams of LinkedIn comments attached to this post and others like it, in variations of “Oh my god! It’s horrible. WTF? AI’s not coming for our jobs yet, man!” I wasn’t alone.
We’ve somehow got to a place where we’re moving forward with baby-steps, when really creativity is all about leaps
But then, something magic happened. A dissenting voice broke through: “What? Are you kidding? That thing is the best damn beer commercial I’ve seen in years.”
The guy had my attention. Not just because of the contrary view, but because of who the view belonged to. I’ll call him Archimedes (of ‘Eureka!’ fame) here, to spare his blushes. Or Arch for short. Arch is one of the best creatives I know. He used to be high up in one of those big beast ad agencies, now freelancing and still bringing it after all these years. And also, not entirely immaterial, a big fan of beer.
‘I mean the fire! A guy’s arm is on fire! When did you last see that in a commercial?’ He had a point.
Arch went on to expand his thesis:
Advertising has become so booooring. Especially in the food and drink space. Ninety percent of it is safe storytelling that nobody really dislikes, or just a well-crafted product demo. Explaining our chocolate is made with the purest milk and sustainable cacao beans and yada yada yada. Nobody remembers that, and it’s not just because they all do pretty much the same. But we all remember the gorilla with the drum kit.
It’s brilliantly, accidentally, serendipitously creative. It wakes us up to what it feels like when we see something really new; really interesting; really challenging.
The fundamentals of marketing are this: no matter what you tell yourself, really, every decision you take, you're not actually sure how it will work out. We’re working in a world where a dude on a skateboard singing a Fleetwood Mac song chugging a cranberry juice can – overnight – become the thing the whole planet is looking at. And caused a company to tear up its multi-million dollar marketing plans.
In Autumn 2020, Nathan Apodaca’s TikTok video of himself skateboarding, drinking cranberry juice and lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac's Dreams racked up millions of views and was incorporated into a TikTok marketing campaign.
We’ve somehow got to a place where we’re moving forward with baby-steps, when really creativity is all about leaps. Mad, irresponsible, mind-boggling leaps that take you somewhere you feel you shouldn’t be, but is somehow amazing. And that’s what the AI beer commercial does.
It may not be a great beer commercial. But it’s brilliantly, accidentally, serendipitously creative. It wakes us up to what it feels like when we see something really new; really interesting; really challenging. Neurons doing hula hoops on speed in the brain. And that’s what creativity is all about.
All great creativity is accidental to a degree. It’s the bringing together of things that don’t obviously or naturally combine and smashing them together to create something totally new.
I had to admit that Arch had a point.
How often do we have that feeling? Not often enough. It’s ironic that it took an AI – at this moment certainly incapable of conscious creativity – to remind me that consciousness, or intention isn’t the point. All great creativity is accidental to a degree. It’s the bringing together of things that don’t obviously or naturally combine and smashing them together to create something totally new (gorilla, drum kit, Genesis, chocolate).
I experienced that feeling myself recently with some Miller work (the immersion in beer I was talking about). This was a situation where two passions of mine: beer, and giant, fat, gut-crushing drum beats, came together. But not in a way you might expect. Having a subwoofer resonate through my being, I wondered what that same vibration would do to a liquid if it was placed close by? The rest, as they say, is beerstory.
[AI] might just come up with something weird enough to open a creative person’s mind to possibilities they hadn’t yet considered.
I’m not sure an AI could ever have come up with that, unless it did it in the manner of a chimp typing in perpetuity that eventually, probability law tells us, would produce Shakespeare – but that’s not the point. It might just come up with something weird enough to open a creative person’s mind to possibilities they hadn’t yet considered.
Which led me to conclude, if AI is making us creatives feel insecure, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.