GenAI and the 11-fingered spokesperson

According to a recent article in The Financial Brand, “Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer at Ally, has been one of the leaders of the company’s exploration of GenAI’s potential. But she’s also a realist with a sense of humor. ‘We just saw our first creative presentation from an agency where all the storyboards were done via GenAI,’ says Brimmer. ‘The agency people told us that if we saw a person on the storyboard with 11 fingers, don’t freak out. It will be because it was all done by GenAI.'”

As a former ad agency “creative guy,” I did find this amusing, however, I did bristle a bit when I read it. I remember well when digital design entered the agency world and revolutionized the way agencies created print ads. The “paste-up artists,” as they were called – who worked in what we called “the bullpen,” i.e., the studio where our mechanicals were created – were highly-skilled artists who made their living by cutting and pasting type onto boards. These boards were then photographed and the film then used by the publication to print the ads. With the advent of digital design, these artists suddenly found themselves either out of a job, or learning how to use design software on a computer, instead of an X-acto knife and glue. 

Now, according to the article, ad agencies are apparently using ChatGPT to create storyboards. If you’re not familiar with a storyboard, it’s a frame-by-frame depiction of the action in a film or video shoot, up until now hand-drawn by a storyboard artist or Art Director (like me) who possesses what we call “hand skills.” A storyboard is designed to provide a roadmap for the shoot. With it, ideally, everyone involved in the production knows, well before the production starts, what is needed, what happens, and when. The result is, or should be, a tremendous savings of time and money.

So, like the mechanical artists in the bullpen who were replaced by iMacs and QuarkXpress, what does the future hold for those creative folks who storyboard-out a concept that requires film or video production? The article goes on to say: “Ally marketers reduced the time needed to produce creative campaigns and content by as much as two to three weeks, and saved 34% of the time that the same work would have taken without Generative AI. The major savings came in the time taken for research, first drafts and other steps – totaling roughly 3,000 hours of human work. Already Brimmer sees the potential for GenAI to save on staffing and that it will influence the types of people she hires in the future.”

Wow. 3,000 hours. If you were to assign an average agency hourly rate, which according to’s January Ad Agency 2024 Pricing Guide is $100/hr on the low end, you’d be looking at a savings of about $300,000. Not bad, considering that ChatGPT is – at least for now – a freebie.  

The question I ask myself is this: As ChatGPT, and 11-fingered individuals continue to make their way into storyboards, what will the talent pool for creative people be like in the coming days? Will in-house marketing departments and ad agencies still need the kind of creatives, i.e., copywriters and art directors, who can digest a 50-page deck of research, along with a creative brief, and develop a concept from it that is fresh, compelling, on-brand and most importantly, moves the ROI needle for their client? “Brimmer says that the experiment has already influenced what she tells college audiences when she speaks about marketing careers. Since ChatGPT came on the scene, she says, she’s frequently asked, ‘Will I have a job when I get out?’ She says she tells students to learn all they can now about how to use GenAI. The more they know, the more employable they will be. She’ll be hiring for such skills.”

How would I answer that question? A little differently, I think: “Yes, you might get a job in marketing as a writer or designer, if that’s what you’re after… as long as you focus on marketing first, and ChatGPT second.  The next generation of marketing department creatives – those young men and women who will be using GenAI to prompt their way to 11-fingered spokespeople – will still need to be, first and foremost, art and copy professionals. Will knowing how to prompt ChatGPT help? Sure, but ChatGPT, no matter how well prompted, will never take the place of a well-trained advertising pro.

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