Marcel gathers pace as Publicis step foot into the age of science fiction

Nearly 5 months have passed since Arthur Sadoun’s announced that Publicis Groupe would withdraw from the 2017 Cannes Lions awards and pull out from all marketing activity for the upcoming year in order to focus on the development of a new spine of artificial intelligence. In Campaign earlier this month, Carla Serrano, Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis, sought to reassure the company’s employees that Marcel will serve solely to maximise and nurture creative potential by developing it directly in accordance with the way they live and operate on a daily basis. Interestingly, Serrano made it clear that the introduction of Marcel is not simply about increasing AI or merely riding the wave of technological influence, but will be woven into the fabric of the entire agency.

Having began the process of reshaping this internal landscape, it is easy to understand why Marcel could be considered something that threatens to undermine the entire domain of creativity. This kind of reaction is very a normal one, as when artificial intelligence is seen as imitating our functions, we feel threatened by it. The first feature of the Marcel revolution was revealed last week in the form of an online incubator, attributed with the fitting mechanical title ‘M Labs’. We were informed that this will work to find the best way to gather teams to work on a big transformation brief. To many, the notion of bypassing human consideration in activities such as assembling a team or crowdsourcing appears to blur the lines between technology assisting a project and dictating its outcome. Serrano was however keen to dispel such concerns of the “alarmists”, as she put it, who believe Marcel will stifle the creative process, insisting that they ‘believe in humanity too much’. Whilst the very notion of believing ‘too much’ in humanity sounds borderline heretic, she is merely pleading for patience from the luddites, as Marcel will invariably undergo some growing pains.

The hope is that Marcel will provide a new framework that will ultimately enhance creativity by creating more time for it, whilst enabling employees to better comprehend data and work more efficiently. John Townshend wrote a piece in campaign earlier this months in which he focused on the Guggenheim, the groundbreaking architectural development of the late 20th century in Bilbao. Since it’s inauguration in1997 the city has overseen the arrival of tourists beyond the 17 million mark. The reason he discusses this example is because beneath the building’s elegant creative exterior lies ‘maths and physics’. Frank Gehry used the same computer software that had been used within the aerospace industry. By virtue of this, ‘every extraordinary curve and vaulted ceiling that Gehry had in his head is realised through brilliant engineering and programmatic precision’. 

In citing this example, Townshend essentially calls for a rethink in how the industry perceives the word ‘data’. The word itself has come to represent an attack on the domain of creativity; a subversive feature of a decadent society. Indeed, the word carries more baggage that it ought to. Examples such as the Guggenheim reveal that numbers are not solely responsible for the execution of a project, but rather it is the guile and capacity of humans to interpret them. As Townshend puts it ‘In a world where creativity is needed in business more than ever, we need to show businesses that creativity is based on substance, not just supposition. Numbers allow you to convince a business that a creative strategy is right. It reduces the risk to the business, but that’s not to say it reduces the ability to be daring in execution.” In other words, creativity will remain in the eye of the beholder

Similarly, Publicis are working to invoke the basic principles upon which technology was developed; to anticipate their needs and assist certain decisions. As such, Marcel will be predicated on breeding creative opportunity by ”enabling and empowering” their employees, allowing them to work more flexibly and ultimately focus their energy on decrypting the data available to them in order to inform their campaigns.

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