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Leading an agency in the age of AI, with Ogilvy Paris’ David Raichman and Mathieu Plassard

“Generative AI has shifted the value away from execution and back to the idea itself."

Ogilvy Paris’s AI marketing campaign for Nestle. Image courtesy of Ogilvy Paris.

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4 min read

David Raichman, creative director at Ogilvy Paris and AI street photographer, seems to know the secret to making the most of both AI and human creativity.

“Generative AI has shifted the value away from execution and back to the idea itself,” he says. “It’s easy to fine tune a prompt a million times; what’s more interesting is your strategic thinking, the creativity behind the prompt and how you might layer multiple generative AIs to achieve your desired effect.” (Read about Wix Studio's AI capabilities here.)

Exhibit A: Ogilvy Paris’s latest AI marketing campaign for Nestle, which features an extended view of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid to promote La Laitière yogurt. (FYI: The brand name translates to “the milk girl” in English.) The campaign zooms out on the original painting, revealing a room full of people watching the milkmaid as she works, and transforming the painting from a depiction of quiet solo labor to a spectacle with an audience. It was created in the brand’s AI.Lab, which houses cutting edge technology as well as a trained team of art directors, copywriters, creative technologists and legal to imagine new activations for Ogilvy Paris’s clients.

By zooming out, Ogilvy Paris uses AI to think outside the frame. It also depicts the growth of the brand from a lone craftswoman to a widely recognized French icon. The extended scene captures a sense of awe missing in the original, which La Laitière intends as an invocation for its new brand slogan, “C'est si bon de prendre le temps.” (It’s so pleasurable to take the time.) The campaign received a Bronze Lion award at the Cannes Lion festival.

“Every week, there's something new about AI, so you have to ask yourself ‘am I going fast enough to stay relevant?’” adds Mathieu Plassard, President of Advertising at Ogilvy Paris. “At the same time, you need to make sure you’re not pivoting too soon, so it’s important to find a cadence that lets you stay experimental yet strategic.”

With so many agencies feeling that struggle, we asked Plassard and Raichman to share their most important learnings about leading a global creative agency in the age of AI.

How do you quickly mobilize an agency around a new strategy?

Mathieu Plassard: I have four recommendations for leading during times of change.

The first is to try to overcome being a hostage of the quarter. You have financial considerations, as do all your clients, so you need to find a way to keep the long term mission and vision without falling victim to the numbers.

The second is to get everybody on board with that. It's great to define a mission or vision, but you need to communicate it to your employees, and do it clearly and regularly.

The third is something I think we're still not good enough at as an industry, which is to encourage experimentation and accept failure. People very rarely accept failure, but innovation often straddles that line between failure and breakthroughs.

The fourth is to invest in the future. That one’s especially difficult because you need to identify what makes for a strong signal that ‘this is a good trend to follow up on.’ Listen to your talent, and try to be the best at research and development. (Related: How to surpass your business goals and charge more for your services)

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How do you find a unique angle for AI campaigns?

David Raichman: More often than not, making unique work starts with the idea itself, not the technology, and in that sense inspiration can come from anywhere. You need to have a double minded vision about what is good for society, as well as how your brand can have a relevant role in it. Then, consider how technology can help you realize your vision.

For instance, our Red Cross France Not Generated by AI campaign featured a collection of horrifying, real (non-computer generated) images that remind us how fake images distract from real-world emergencies. We needed good photography to bring this to life, but it was more of a commentary on AI than an application of it. In this case, we didn’t actually have to use it to produce something extraordinary.

How do you encourage innovation and risk-taking as president?

Mathieu Plassard: You need to have a vision, and you need to be confident that it's going to work. If I look back to the ‘70s, David Ogilvy was the first to start a direct marketing agency. It’s since evolved, but there's always a risk in trying new things. Failing forward is just a part of what we do at Ogilvy—it’s baked into our DNA. Sometimes you’ve got consumer tests that help you come to informed decisions, but sometimes it's a leap of faith.

So, how do we create a mindset of testing, failing and being bold enough to try something new? I’d argue it’s really about leading by example, which always starts from the top. Accept that you're not always right. By encouraging that mentality, we’re able to pivot and do something very different, very quickly.

From a technical perspective, that’s exactly what we’ve done with AI. We really believe that it’s about giving our employees a new superpower, so we’ve invested in what we call the ‘AI Academy.’ It's a resource that provides the tools and education to play around with AI. The academy acts as a soft bed for failure to learn from, grow from and ultimately cultivate that superpower. When you train your people, it’s a guarantee that you’ll have better ideas.

What does it mean to be a creative director in the age of AI?

David Raichman: For me, a creative director isn’t the person that’s ‘making the stuff,’ it’s somebody that operates at the vision level of the project without touching the stuff. AI is great for giving you exactly what you want, but your team can provide a hurricane of nonlinear ideas that spur creativity better than ChatGPT ever will. So, when you ask for a red triangle, you’ll get variations of it from your AI, whereas your team might deliver a blue circle, which may not initially be what you wanted but can inspire breakthrough thinking in your project. The key is to combine both capabilities, that’s how you arrive at ‘purple triangle with rounded edges’ level ideas.

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