Mark Whelan, Havas: "It’s not about outsourcing creativity, it’s about bringing other collaborators/sparring partners into the process."

A whole world of possibilities opens up when bridging human creativity with AI

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Havas London
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Mark Whelan
Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Havas London

Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Havas, Mark Whelan, delineates the agency's strategy to implementing AI tools and navigating its limitations.


Does your agency encourage or deter the use of AI in your work? If applicable, how does your team integrate these tools into the creative process? 

Right from the get-go, we have encouraged people to dive in and explore the possibilities of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) while following our guidelines around compliance and being aware of its issues and limitations. 

At first, the text-to-text use cases occurred in the realm of expanding the exploration stage in the strategic process by inviting another brain to the table (again with caveats), particularly through employing prompts like “act as an expert in” or “give a counter argument to.” Now we are getting more sophisticated and prototyping bespoke applications. 

Text-to-image for our creatives and designers has been like having the keys to the candy store (side note: increasingly, we are seeing adoption across all roles). One creative describes it as a color printer for the imagination, whereas another says that unpredicted visualization results take an initial idea in new and more interesting directions.

So, the combination of these applications in strategy and creative has elevated many of our concepts. Note: that’s concepts, not execution. 

There is of course a ton of limitations, smart copy being one example. The biggest of all (and this has been said by many already) is that AI can’t have an idea. It can be inspiration, but cannot be inspired. It can write a brief, but it can’t set out with an ambition for a brief. That’s our job and that of our clients.


How does the accessibility of these tools affect the way it is used? 

The sheer number and pace of new technologies that have entered the public domain since the arrival of ChatGPT (can you believe it was just November 30 of last year?) means that one of the issues we're all figuring out is how we fit it all together, and how do we stay on top of what is best for which task? That’s why we are taking an approach of thinking about how we join different AI tools together to create bespoke “stacks” for different tasks.  


As AI advances, how is the role of the creative redefined? In what ways do you see the landscape of creation changing/shifting in response to AI?

We’ve had technologies that help us collaborate before (Slack, WhatsApp); GAI is technology to collaborate with. So, we’re finding that it’s less about roles changing and more about new kinds of relationships that are forming between the technologies and the people in the creation process. It’s not about outsourcing creativity, it’s about bringing other collaborators/sparring partners into the process. 


If AI furthers its capability to create and think, what is a responsible way to use these new technologies?

That’s a question that goes way beyond the creative process! But back on planet Agency, at Havas, we have been talking about what we want our principles to be with regard to AI. Very early on, we talked about the Spider-Man mantra of power and responsibility — recognizing how powerful a tool AI can be but keeping responsible application in mind. Our goal from the start was to be conscious of issues around accuracy, biases, copyright, and compliance, but we also believe this principle should be applied to our overall AI strategy.