Fwd: The adman is a PC

Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Tue, 7 Sep 1999 07:43:40 -0400

Subject: Fwd: The adman is a PC
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 07:43:40 -0400
From: "Wade T.Smith" <wade_smith@harvard.edu>
To: "Memetics Discussion List" <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>

This might just be a viral variant of that dreaded reductionism we all
seem to hate or love....


The adman is a PC

By Dolores Kong, Globe Staff, 09/06/99

Are computers more creative than humans?

Perhaps - at least when it comes to developing ad concepts, according to
an experiment comparing ideas that a specially programmed computer
generated with those dreamed up by humans.

To convey that a particular brand of computer is user-friendly, for
instance, the computer came up with the notion of having a bouquet of
flowers come out of a computer screen. The human concept, on the other
hand, called for a lipstick imprint on the screen, as if a woman had
kissed it. The computer's idea was judged better by a panel of ordinary
people, not trained in advertising.

An essay titled ''Creative Sparks'' reports the findings in the current
issue of the journal Science.

The point of the exercise was not to minimize human creativity, or to
compare computers with humans, but to explore the mechanical aspects of
creativity, so that what makes humans human can be better understood,
said Sorin Solomon, a physics professor at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. He co-authored the report with marketing colleagues Jacob
Goldenberg and David Mazursky.

''Deep in ourselves, we hope that humans are really something special. I
still believe we are,'' said Solomon, a particle physicist by training,
in a telephone interview yesterday.

And the way Solomon and his colleagues are trying to prove that is
through a process of elimination, by seeing what aspects of human
endeavor can be performed just as well by computers and which can't.

''All these efforts of reductionism of mine are not because I really
believe that everything can be reduced to physics, to mechanics. It's in
order to take away what can be reduced, and leave in all the splendor the
things that cannot be reduced,'' Solomon said.

As a result of his work as a particle physicist, studying the natural
rules that govern microscopic particles, Solomon became intrigued with
trying to find similar rules that might explain human activities, if they
are broken down into small enough parts to be studied. He calls this
effort ''microscopic representation.''

So for the advertising experiment, he and his colleagues worked with
advertising professionals and analyzed award-winning ads (designed by
humans), to come up with discrete formulas to explain what makes a great

These formulas, or algorithms, were then plugged into a computer, which
then came up with ad concepts of its own.

One of the most common formulas for an award-winning ad, for instance,
turns out to be what the researchers call the ''pictorial analogy
template,'' in which a symbol, like a bouquet of flowers, is put on a
product, like a computer.

The humans who came up with ad ideas for the experiment were highly
educated people like professors and scientists, but not necessarily
advertising professionals.

Then the ideas from both computers and humans were given to artists to
turn into advertisements. The judges compared those ads with each other,
as well as to some of the human-made award-winning ads that had served as
the basis for some of the computer formulas.

All hope is not lost for humans, though. Even though the
computer-generated ideas beat out those dreamed up by humans in the
experiment, the judges found the best ads to actually be the
award-winning ones (created by humans) that served as the basis of the
computer-formulated ones.

And advertising officials in Boston scoffed at the notion that a computer
could ever take the place of the most talented professionals.

''I'd put our best creative minds against computers any time,'' said
Bethany Kendall, president of the 7,000-member Advertising Club of
Greater Boston, the largest advertising and communications trade group in
the nation.

Alan Holliday, one of the founders of ad agency Hill Holliday Connors
Cosmopulos and now an assistant professor of mass communications at
Boston University, said, ''There's an awful lot of dumb, boring
advertising that a computer could probably do just as well, but the
really great advertising takes in a lot of factors that I don't think a
computer can.''

This story ran on page C02 of the Boston Globe on 09/06/99. =A9 Copyright
1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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