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Do androids laugh at electric clowns? What AI means for humour in advertising

AI could act as a new tool to help writers be funny
AI could act as a new tool to help writers be funny Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Damon Embling
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Humour has long been a part of advertising, created by humans for humans. But now, artificial intelligence (AI) is getting a front row seat in comedy creativity.

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Audiences will forget what they hear, but they’ll remember how they felt. Something that’s always on the minds of creatives attempting to pack a punch in advertising. 

It’s why funny voices, puns, sarcasm and other humorous techniques have been deployed over the years in a bid to stand out and engage consumers. But striking the right note in a globalised advertising market isn’t easy.

“With so much content being created at the same time, that kind of avalanche of content we live in right now, finding that unique humorous voice can be tricky and it tends to get sanded down by focus groups and testing and being localised for different markets,” says Neil Heymann, Global Chief Creative Officer at Accenture Song, a tech-powered creative group.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, he pointed out that comedy is seen as a bit of a risk, but the rewards can be significant.

Comedy gets leading role in Cannes

Humour may have always been in vogue for some creatives, but it’s only just got its own category in the Cannes Lions awards programme. 

“My favourite coming into the festival was a piece some of my ex-colleagues are involved with, which is a piece for Uber in the UK, featuring Robert De Niro

“The timing of it is so arresting in a lot of ways. In a world that’s trying to cram everything into six seconds, the open spaces and awkward pauses feel really luxurious,” Heymann tells Euronews Culture.

Uber UK's advert with Robert De Niro is one of Neil Heymann's favourite use of comedy.

Having a laugh with AI

Heymann highlighted artificial intelligence (AI), often criticised for its lack of emotion, would find it difficult to replicate the De Niro kind of performance.

But he sees the technology as a useful new tool to create humour in communication, alongside human creative minds. 

Heymann loves a good pun and believes there’s mathematics and methodology behind them which lend well to AI. He was recently struck by a new tool developed by Google Labs, that helps to create the perfect joke

“There’s almost like a pun setting on the interface and it just spits out every variation of wordplay, every kind of interpretation of how words are put together. It was pretty fascinating,” he explains. 

“The example they used when presenting it is that up until now, the only tools that writers have really had in terms of expanding their options are dictionary and thesaurus and maybe a rhyming dictionary and this is just expanding that.”

He continues: “They made the comparison to distortion pedals on the guitars. So, you’re still playing the same tune, but you can kind of experiment with different tones of voice, different timing, different rhythms, things like that. 

Getting the humour right

With audience tastes evolving over the years, combined with different cultures and viewpoints, advertisers have to be careful which puns or other forms of humour they’re deploying. Despite the industry becoming more global, not all content translates everywhere. Heymann thinks AI can have a role in solving that too.  

“There is a role with AI, if set up correctly, that it can be a really advanced filtering system, which hopefully is useful and points out any potential pitfalls without totally killing off any sense of the thrill of a little bit of risk or taking a big leap.”

Watch the video above to learn more about AI and comedy.

You can see more content from Cannes Lions here.

Additional sources • Filmed and edited by Lionel Laval

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