The human vs. machine debate is long-standing in our industry and resurfaced recently following the launch of Wavemaker’s new AI-planning tool Maximise.  Some might bemoan another nail in the coffin of creativity and innovation. Others will say the ambitions of our clients demand that we embrace this new technology.  At Hearts & Science, it has never been an either-or debate.  For us, it has always been about the opportunity data science and analytics provides to unlock new sources of growth, and new creative ways for brands to connect with people effectively.

Since launching in the UK 4-years ago we have worked hard to embrace the potential of new data and technology like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. At the heart of what we do is what we have called The Brain.  This is our super-computer that allows us to take in big, complex data from multiple sources – from granular media consumption, to sales performance, to brand tracking and much more – and analyse it at speed to unearth insights that inform strategy, influence media channel plans, and turbo charge campaign optimisations.  It combines Machine Learning with AI to manage high volumes of complex data combinations, and enables our team of analysts, planners and strategists to spend more time turning the data into a valuable commodity for our clients.

Embracing this technology has allowed us as an agency to diversify both how we can help our clients and the problems we can help them solve. It has turned its hand to everything from customer value modelling, media-mix-modelling, neuro-language processing, store performance segmentation and more.  And over the last 4-years it has sat at the heart of our most exciting, innovative and effective work. The Brain has been used to analyse 35m words scraped from 13-years of news articles to understand the text and sentiment of what people were saying about global health.  It has been used to run millions of media plan scenarios for Center Parcs in a highly dynamic marketplace to help deliver +4.5% average booking value YoY (and also winning a Media Week Bronze Award.)  It has allowed us to genuinely move to outcomes-driven TV planning for several of our clients where we can link TV spots to sales data and in doing so optimise TV plans based on what is proven to drive sales. And we’ve built a customer value segmentation for a fashion start-up enabling us to tailor communications to increase lifetime value (which won a Campaign Media Gold Award).

But none of this great work was done by the machine alone, and if we return to the human vs. machine debate, working with this technology over the last few years has taught us a few things:

  • The Brain needs a body and to be connected to the Heart: It’s not human vs. machine but human & machine (not Heart or Science, but both together). The crunching speed and efficacy of AI and ML is amazing. However, without overlaying people’s real-world experience, media nous and ability to turn data into insight and inspiration to land more creative ideas, it is just data. The machine alone can recommend unfeasible, undeliverable or frankly daft solutions.
  • Don’t chase difference, target growth: Machines are largely limited to learned experiences. In media terms that means if they haven’t seen it before then it is completely blind to it happening in the future, so the 100 million media plan simulations could be missing key channels, audiences or category influences. Once again, this is where people who can think laterally and have a wider field of vision are the key to finding the right recommendation.
  • Don’t limit this technology to efficiency gains: It’s all too easy to apply this new technology to immediate efficiency gains like increasing cost-per-reach or reducing cost-per-acquisition. While the technology can do this, it is more versatile than that, so it can and should be used for so much more. It is however only as good as the dataset you point it at and again that’s where our people’s curiosity is key.

So, our learning is to embrace the new tech and allow it to lead us to better plans, sharper insights, greater effectiveness;  but the data or the machine alone isn’t the answer – even when you have built something game-changing, it is still the curiosity of people that turns it into inspiration.

Garrett O’Reilly, Managing Director, Hearts & Science UK