Digital Audio

Competitor or Collaborator: What Role will AI Play In Audio?

Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director, Studio ResonateJun 8, 2023

AI tools have captured the imagination and stoked the fear in humans. No matter where you find yourself on that continuum, one thing is certain: AI is challenging the way we think about creativity.

Industry trades have been consumed lately with stories about AI and its impact on creativity and creators. From writing ad copy and voicing ads to cloning voices and mimicking writing styles, it seems like humans and AI are squaring up for a battle royale. In one corner we have AI, ready to deliver a one-two punch of efficiency and scale. In the other, humanity prepares to defend culture and the creative class. Time to place your bets. 

Innovation Brings Disruption and Progress

Technological innovation and disruption go hand in hand. Consider the rise of the music industry. The ability to reproduce sounds on magnetic tape, the advent of digital audio workstations, and the rise of streaming music services have all played a role in the evolution of how music is created, produced, and consumed. Many creators embraced these innovations, integrating them into their creative process. At the same time, others found it difficult to adapt, with the price of progress taking a toll on both earning power and income.

Similarly, in the advertising industry, a quick Google search will yield polarized responses regarding the role of AI in creative and advertising contexts, extolling the benefits of scale and cost efficiency while also predicting the decimation of working classes and the democratization of creativity. 

With AI development and use cases growing at an exponential rate, it’s difficult to find the middle ground. How do you maintain the speed and agility needed to innovate when questions of culture and ethics suggest the need to apply the brakes? 

The Costs and Benefits of AI Advancement

AI tools have captured the imagination and stoked the fear of the humans using them. No matter where you find yourself on that continuum, one thing is certain: AI is challenging the way we think about creativity and how we navigate the inevitable tension between art and commerce. 

The speed and scale at which AI can produce content promises the potential of huge savings in time and talent costs. These practical benefits are already driving decisions to integrate AI into workflow and content production (for example, consider WPP’s creation of a new AI platform with chipmaker Nvidia). Beyond cost savings, these tools may open up new or different kinds of job opportunities, from prompt engineers and AI creative directors to AI producers and managers.

At the same time, brands and their creative partners are waking up to the potential impact of AI beyond cost controls and bottom-line savings. Ethical and cultural concerns are now an ongoing part of the conversation, with points of view shifting almost as rapidly as new iterations of the technology itself. Consider BBDO’s position on AI at the end of December 2022, as they touted the ways they were “supercharging the creative process with generative AI.” Four months later, they warned against generative AI for client work. 

The impact of AI on wages and the creative sector is unclear, especially when taking human creativity into consideration. AI would seem to offer a way to produce cost-effective, short-term marketing at a large scale, reducing the need for human writers and actors. However, sustainable brand growth and effectiveness rely on forming emotional bonds with consumers over the long term. It's one thing for AI to produce a generic performance marketing campaign or advertisement. It’s another thing for it to produce advertising that emotionally resonates and builds brands long term. 

Once More, with Feeling

When it comes to building brands and evoking a strong emotional response, the jury is still out as to whether or not AI can effectively compete with human creativity and experience. That’s not to say that generative AI can’t produce an ad that gives us the feels and builds an emotional connection. As humans, we can easily anthropomorphize or humanize just about anything. We’re wired to connect. AI only needs to imitate patterns of language, speech, sound, and visual cues that we can interpret as an emotional connection. Our brains do the rest, sometimes with unintended consequences.

In efforts to ensure “truth in advertising,” ads are often required to give disclaimers regarding paid sponsorships, the credibility of spokespersons, and the use of actors. It may be that regulators will offer an advantage to human talent and creators by requiring advertisers to disclose if they’re using AI generated actors, voices, products, etc. Such regulation may slow down the rush to market with AI produced advertising, particularly if that disclosure may negatively reflect on both the advertising and the brand.

I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends

In spite of the concerns, the rapid development and commercialization of AI tools aren’t necessarily a zero-sum proposition for human creativity. We’re already seeing creators using AI to augment their own creativity, reach new audiences, and evolve their business models in the process. Musicians, designers, and writers have tapped into AI to help them brainstorm, mock up concepts, proofread and edit copy, generate code, and more. As a collaborator, AI may be more friend than foe, expanding our horizons and helping us stretch the boundaries of our creativity. The fact that it may enable us to be more creative while saving us time and money is an added bonus. 

AI and Audio Advertising

Where do we go from here, given that it seems we have far more questions than answers about the costs and benefits of the use of AI in advertising? 

As we explore ways to integrate new AI tools into our workflow and creative process, SXM Media is currently developing a more formal point of view on the use of AI on our audio platforms. We’re working to thread the needle between competitive innovation and respect for the talented creators, voice artists, musicians, copywriters, and audio producers who are part of our creative ecosystem. 

At Studio Resonate, we're testing the practical application of AI in the world of audio advertising and the implications of its use for consumers and creators alike. This includes extending our commitment to sonic diversity to include AI voices that represent BIPOC communities. We believe that the more we begin to experiment with AI’s potential, understanding both its benefits and its limitations, the more we’ll be able to adapt to the changing creative landscape and to help our clients adapt in the process.  

As to who would emerge victorious in a creative competition between humans and AI, and what lessons we might learn about collaboration in the process, we’ve launched our own battle royale to find out. Stay tuned…

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