How AI could transform the advertising pitch game

The quality between competing decks is potentially going to become negligible, making the human connection with the client the only difference, says Middlesex University Dubai's Stephen King

The impact of generative AI platforms on teaching and learning has been equal to, or even greater than the 2019-20 pandemic. However, in advertising education, my students have benefited from Pandora’s box being opened. I’ve observed a promising shift catalysed by responsible and confident use of generative AI, and in one case – the mock pitch assessment – I believe I have witnessed the future.

Over our full academic year and across two briefs – set by the Theatre of Digital Art, and My Second Home Dubai – ten teams of students harnessed AI tools such as Runway, ADOBE Photoshop, DALL–E, ChatGPT, and others, to great effect. They were able to present significant quantities of high-quality work and were able to manage their workload much more effectively and efficiently than previous year groups. This year group has benefited from:

Improved ability to explain complex ideas: Generative AI tools have empowered students to elucidate complex ideas more effectively within their teams. By democratising the creation process, students were able to bring high-quality drafts to brainstorming meetings, fostering smoother collaboration and expediting ideation. This increased the number of high-quality ideas generated and the involvement of quieter youth.

Higher quality concepts: The majority of student teams leveraged generative AI to produce high-quality concept artwork for advertising campaigns. These concepts could serve as blueprints for human artists to refine, dramatically accelerating the creative process and leveling the playing field among pitching teams. Many of the final outputs were of such a similar high standard that I predict in the future procurement teams would have difficulty separating competitive proposals.

More confident presentations: If the account team is convinced about the creative they are presenting, that is half if not more of the battle won. With AI-generated concepts in hand, students delivered presentations with newfound energy and enthusiasm. The quality of their work bolstered their confidence, amplifying the impact of their oral delivery.

Better quality presentations: AI tools facilitated the use of sophisticated language and slide content.  This elevated the overall quality of student pitches and made the delivery slick and professional. AI was initially used to generate content using focused prompts, students then demonstrated the ability to edit and refine the outputs, resulting in polished recommendations and descriptions, much faster than has been observed in previous iterations of this assessment.

Research guides: Text-based generative AI aided students in expediting primary and secondary research processes, generating valuable questions for polls and interviews, and assisting in the preparation of SWOT and PEST analyses. While still requiring refinement and fact-checking, these tools proved invaluable in streamlining research efforts.

Considering these modest observations, several implications emerge:

Agencies need to embrace AI in pitches: AI can level the playing field by improving the quality of presentations and reducing the cost of participating in pitches. Small to medium agencies stand to disrupt the industry by impressing clients at levels previously reserved for major players. However, this is likely only a short-term bump for fast-moving and innovative creative hubs, as in the longer-term the use of AI in pitching will become standard practice negating the advantage of early movers.

Clients must stipulate AI usage: Clients should stipulate the appropriate usage of AI permitted in pitches. Policies should focus on information security – as AI cannot sign nor be held accountable to an NDA.

Human factor and quality delivery are paramount: If every team is presenting beautiful artwork, then the differentiator will be the dynamism and reputation of the account team. Agencies may therefore find it beneficial to focus on the reputation of their creative heroes, supported by data analysis, industry awards and testimonials.

Anticipated graduate recruitment boom: The rise of AI in pitching, and other areas of the communications industry, will likely spur a surge in junior-level recruitment, mirroring past trends seen in social media management. Agencies will seek to capitalise on emerging talent to drive AI knowledge and innovation within their ranks. 2024 could therefore be an excellent time to enter the industry.

Ultimately, my experience predicts a paradigm shift with some long-lasting implications. ‘Responsible’ AI usage will revolutionise the pitching process. And in the short term at least, this transformation has the potential of being highly problematic and disruptive, but in the longer run will likely benefit industry by reducing the cost incurred in business development.

 By Stephen King, Senior Lecturer in Media at Middlesex University Dubai