Watch your backs, agency creatives. Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot, an AI trained to pitch Big Game ad concepts, has just been honored as the year’s best use of artificial intelligence by the 2020 Shorty Awards.
In taking the category’s top honor over three other finalists, Adweek’s project even beat last year’s Cannes Innovation Grand Prix winner, “See Sound” from Wavio.
Launched in late 2019 and announced publicly in January, Adweek’s bot was trained on thousands of real Super Bowl ad descriptions, including from Adweek’s own Super Bowl Ad Trackers over the years. Derived from a cutting-edge language generation AI called GPT-2, the Super Bowl Bot also had a foundational knowledge of human behavior based on content from more than 8 million websites.
The results, while often surreal and even unnerving, were also legible enough to sound plausibly like they’d been pitched by a human—albeit a rather odd one.
The Super Bowl Bot was conceived and developed by Patrick Kulp, Adweek’s emerging technology writer who specializes in AI, and David Griner, Adweek’s creative and innovation editor. The project was built using only free, open-source tools available to anyone.
“While the project made clear that AI isn’t exactly ready to helm a whole Super Bowl ad campaign, we were constantly blown away by some of the crazy—and often surprisingly coherent—ideas the technology could produce,” Kulp said. “I think the recent breakthroughs in language-generation AI that we tapped for the bot could be an exciting turning point for creative technology.”
One brand, frequent Super Bowl advertiser Wix, even turned one of the bot’s ad pitches into a real spot posted to social media:
Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot won both the jury’s pick and the “audience honor” (meaning it won the most votes by Shorty Awards site visitors) in the artificial intelligence category. The other finalists in the category were DBS Bank’s DBS Lifestyle App, “See Sound” by FCB Health’s Area 23 for client Wavio, and Turkish mobile operator Turkcell’s “Spread the Smile” campaign.
While Griner believes the Super Bowl Bot project is a fascinating illustration of how far content-generating AI has come in a short time, he said creative professionals should actually view the technology as a tool, not a threat.
“As a former copywriter, what I learned from Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot is that there’s a lot of potential value in having an AI create a list of ideas that human teams can then sift through for good, original ideas,” Griner said. “The hardest part of concepting a campaign or spot is getting those first ideas on the wall, but now you can feed an AI all your starting points—audience interests, brand assets, celebrity endorsers, etc.—and get 100 decent starting points.”
Early in the Super Bowl Bot’s development, the Adweek team opted to curate its output by letting editors decide what to publish rather than giving the bot access to post directly to social media. The concern was the potential for the bot, trained on millions of real websites, to generate content that could seem racist, sexist or otherwise inappropriate.
As Kulp noted in chat about the lessons of the project, “We were absolutely right to worry.” The bot frequently generated ideas that were disturbingly violent, graphically sexual or generally offensive. But because the project allowed editors to filter through the output and select the best options for publishing, only vetted concepts were allowed out into the world.
On that note, the Super Bowl Bot team decided to have it write a few congratulatory ads for the Shorty Awards win. After a few bizarre passes—including one that proclaimed “The planet is flat, the moon landing was a hoax, Hillary is corrupt and fake news is OK”—the bot eventually settled on two that were a bit more on topic:
[In an ad celebrating a Shorty Award win for Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot,] a company says that, unlike humans, it doesn’t write for clicks but rather for heartbeats.
[In an ad celebrating a Shorty Award win for Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot,] designers dash off into the most creative part of the office, imagining all the fabulous things that could come out of the win. From new brand ambassadors to dazzling chandeliers, they brainstorm all kinds of crazy ideas. Eventually, one of them proposes that maybe the best part of the job is just having the freedom to do things like that in the first place.
Indeed, Super Bowl Bot. Indeed.