AI-Powered Creative: Some (Processed) Food For Thought

There’s a great scene in The Big Short where the late, great, Anthony Bourdain is explaining what a CDO is. He uses a brilliant analogy, about how a morally questionable chef might use some unsold fish that’s past its best to make a seafood stew.

He says, “It’s not old fish, it’s a whole new thing”.

With all the chat about ChatGPT over recent weeks, my mind has returned to this scene time and time again. No matter what ChatGPT spits out, it’s always going to be some sort of re-hash of something else. An amalgamation of other people’s ideas, imagination and words. Which poses an important question when we’re talking about creativity, “Is this ok?”

Perhaps the situation with ChatGPT is actually worse than the frugal chef. With Tony’s stew, at least he knows what’s gone into it. Although the fish may be a little out of date, at least he knows where the fish came from, the type of fish it is, and the best way to throw it all together into a delicious meal.

ChatGPT harvests its information from an almost infinite number of sources. You’ve no idea where it’s come from, or what it was originally. So, in this regard, it’s much more like the heavily processed food you might buy in a supermarket.

When you buy a cheap pack of sausages, it may claim that each pinkish finger contains at least 53% ‘pork’, but none of us can be 100% sure what’s in them exactly. We all quietly accept that there’ll be some arseholes and earlobes in there somewhere, but it looks ok, and tastes surprisingly good, so we try not to dwell on it and go about our day.

And maybe that’s the key to it all. That word 'Ok'.

Most of the time, ChatGPT might be perfectly ok for helping to create some copy or throwing up ideas. In many instances, it will be fine. It's the equivalent of needing a quick dinner on a cold and dreary Tuesday night, when you’re in a rush, and the kids need to get to swimming lessons, and you’ve got a million things to do around the house. A quick ready-made meal is good enough. It'll do.

And that’s the essence of the debate for me. There are plenty of people who are ok with 'good enough'. Those who don't worry about where their food has come from, or how nutritious it is, or the long-term implications of eating too much of it. And I’m sure the same will be true of some brands. It’s fine for them to dip into the freezer every now and then for a quick fix; a copy equivalent of a microwave meal. It’ll probably do them no harm if they shove some in their gobs once in a while. Nor will it do any harm to people they feed.

But feasting on nothing but processed food for too long will do horrible things to your insides. You’ll feel flabby and out of shape. A bit lethargic. Generally unwell.

In many respects, I’m not sure what all the fuss has been about with ChatGPT. I’m lucky to have worked with many incredible clients over the years, and I know none of them will be thinking about replacing their creative agencies with a future version of a 'Generative Pre-trained Transformer’. Partly because they won’t get taken out for a nice lunch by a GPT. But mainly because most of them are connoisseurs of fine food.

They understand and appreciate the love, care and attention that goes into rearing a herd of organic beef, or the artisanal craft that’s required to make some delicious cheese. This is the food they want to serve to their customers. It’s delicious, nutritious, and most importantly, they know where it’s come from.

If you’re a creative agency serving up average fodder, then maybe you’ve got something to worry about. But for most agencies I know, they can rest easy. A perfectly cooked, medium-rare, original creative idea (fresh out of a human brain) will always be the most popular dish on the menu.