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Stylized wireframe image of a brain
June 7, 2023

Atom smashing creativity: AI and Branded Storytelling

Headshot of employee Matt Sharpe
By Matt Sharpe

A well-run co-creation session leverages a process that’s incredibly similar to using particle accelerators or even AI. Each combines different inputs, collides them (sometimes literally), then requires evaluation of the results to see if anything of value is left behind. That last part, the human evaluation of outputs, is the key and remains the same regardless of the bleeding edge science that got to those outputs. 

When the Large Hadron Collider spun up in 2008, the numbers associated with the particle accelerator were staggering. A circumference larger than New York City, a power draw roughly one-third of Geneva, matter heated to temperatures not seen since the Big Bang, all used to accelerate particles to near light speed. But for all the hype and excitement around it, the function was simple: smash atoms at each other to reveal and investigate their constituent parts. In doing so scientists would find new realities, better their understanding of the universe, and if you believed some of the chatter at the time, doom us all to be sucked into a black hole of our own creation. 

Great ideas come from creative processes similar to atom smashing. Historically, some of the most resilient brands and messages in the world have come from collisions of ideas. Marketers have then recombined the results into unique messages, digital products, or even selling propositions. In doing so, they’ve created new unforeseen connections between sometimes wildly different ideas; swiping right on Tinder, one click shopping, Uber everything, electric cars that you want to drive, or Ketchup chips. 

To arrive at innovative combinations, some creatives use a process called Forced Analogy, from Gamestorming. Participants in the game are asked to write a random list of things such as; objects, people, or favourite songs on a set of cue cards. The cards are shuffled and handed out. Participants are then asked to explain how they would solve their stated business problems using the item on their given cue card. It’s a fantastic process where you may hear statements like “Here’s how a potato can strengthen brand presence in AMEA.” or “Here’s how Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ can solve our distribution bottlenecks.”  

To note, I feel compelled to underscore that the Forced Analogy process does actually work. It forces unexpected prompts to find solutions for all manner of brand challenges. In fact, many agencies have adopted similar processes and made it a key piece of their strategic offering. 

Current AI models can now perform a version of what we do with markers and cards in the Forced Analogy exercise. AI leverages impossibly large neural networks and language models to slam together widely disparate thoughts in a way that feels seamless. AI, like Forced Analogy, is the atom smasher of ideas except with a much larger data pool. And just how there was fear when the atom smasher was new, there is a lot of collective anxiety around how AI will be used by (or in place of) creatives.  

The reality is that it’s up to us to incorporate this new tool into our skillsets. AI can reveal previously unimaginable combinations and allow us to investigate if anything interesting is left behind afterwards. Learning to leverage this wellspring of thought-starters is the right move. 

Smart creatives will benefit by leveraging AI outputs during ideation stages to challenge narratives, functionality patterns, and business models, or even disrupt cultural stereotypes. But the technology can’t judge if your brand positioning is truly unique, interesting or how it makes someone feel. That’s on you and your (human) team.