Is this the AI-pocolypse for Advertising, or will Creatives rise to the challenge?

There's been concern across Kenya's marketing, advertising, and communications communities about the ethics and the impact of using AI-based images. Large Kenyan brands have put out billboards and artwork with images created by generative AI platforms like Midjourney and DALL-E.


The typesetter is dead, long live the personal computer. 

We've been here before. When Kenyan, African, and global ad campaigns were being conceptualised by the industry's first ad men and women, a shift occurred. They went from creating physical layouts of their artworks using typesetters and technical equipment. They would compose things with tremendous attention to detail in placing the image, typeface, and overall layout. They sweat the details because there were also few media platforms which were consumed with high attention. People faithfully purchased and read most of the newspaper. Hundreds of thousands read magazines. There was a deficit of content and an abundance of time and attention to consume it.


The stock image phase

The second shift occurred when the process of laying out artwork went from physical machines and technical equipment to personal computers. Desktop computers became, and remain a staple in creative studios worldwide. Adobe's Creative Suite became every design professional's right hand. And back then, there was, indeed, an anger of its own. The creative community lamented the loss of skills among creative professionals. The benefit of moving swiftly was not without those who felt they lost the art of composing billboards, posters, magazines, and visual assets to soulless machines with people staring at smaller screens. 

Perhaps the biggest shift of all took place at this very time. For the consumer their time and attention found more and more sources of content. Be it through the proliferation of media licenses, which led to more radio and television stations than one could listen to. The choice and variety were only exceeded by the arrival of mobile phones and the Internet. That heralded social media and an age where brands now competed with your friends for space in news feeds with algorithms determining what and who you see. This shift can't be understated. The 'what happens in an internet minute' visual sums up the shift, but it doesn't show the people who are completely overwhelmed and overrun with more content than they could consume in their lifetime. There's too much to choose from, whether on radio, television, or print. The problem is scaled millions of times online with all the corners of the internet from social networks, video streaming sites, online publishers, and content creators big and small. This brought about what Mark Schaefer calls 'content shock,' a situation where a human's attention span is significantly smaller than all the content they could reasonably consume.

Another shift happened for the advertising, marketing, and branding world - they could no longer bet on communicating a few times with great quality and care for their content. They took to the internet with the view that brands are people (a mistaken idea that will be debunked another day) and need to say 'good morning' and post several times a day. This led to a situation where the creative and design professionals realised that only so many photographs, videos, and visual assets could be created. So this led to the significant rise of another sector - the stock photography sector. Previously mainly used by publishers of magazines and newspapers, the stock photography sector soared. Design professionals and their agencies took out licenses to have perpetual access to images. For Kenya and Africa, I believe one man may be the hardest-working man in Kenya. He's a doctor, lawyer, engineer, and entrepreneur. His stock images have been used millions of times online and offline. The stock image became a trusty companion for design professionals to deliver quick posters, fliers, and more. This heralded the art of what keywords one searches for, such as "happy African man", "mature African businessman", and "excited young African woman." The stock photo became the safety blanket of the creative with a tight deadline to make a visual asset for social media or print. 


The AI-led Phase with Visuals

With the rise of generative AI and the current uproar over the use of these tools, one of the arguments online has been that large brands can't use AI, they'll put several creative professionals out of a job. The people listed were the model, make-up artist, photographer, and some advertising professionals, too, as examples.

This is a red herring. AI isn't there to replace those jobs at all. In fact, generative AI will compete heavily with stock imagery, when it comes to visuals. It already is. So the hardest working model on Getty Images, iStock, Shutterstock, and other platforms might bid us adieu and proceed to a semi-retirement now.

The problem with stock images was that they made brands look the same. It was the same smiling family. The same old man for insurance. The same young lady excitedly holding up a phone with glee. It led brands into a sad sea of sameness that disconnected them emotionally from their customers. The brands bold enough to resist stock photos and invest in photography of local talent were more distinctive and better recognised. This problem will still be around with AI. Should brands look to AI as a balm to solve this, without incorporating and pushing distinctiveness, they'll meet the same ends, where their images aren't distinguishable from a tiny brand with the same prompt in a generative AI platform. They can run, but they can't hide from this reality.

At Nendo, we see generative AI as a way to level things out. Studies have shown that it doesn't necessarily get the highest performers a large bump in their results, but it significantly affects those who might otherwise struggle. The rising tide lifts all boats, with the fact that now people can generate visuals and images with relative ease compared to those who might have struggled. Online design platforms like Canva are rewriting the script providing design and creative professionals with expertise in matching typefaces, and colours, and composing artwork through templates that might have taken years of experience before. Both of these will have a far greater effect overall on those who were otherwise paying their dues to slowly build experience. AI is, as my friend Musa Kalenga likes to put it, a trampoline in a world of ladders. It will help people jump up higher and take an alternate route to proficiency. AI makes the awful into average. It also makes the amazing more attainable. A unique opportunity for us all to learn, adopt, and explore it.

For brands, one of the big ideas Nendo is exploring is how they can take their existing stock photography libraries and build their own visual generative AI that matches previous styles and content created by them.

If you're interested in exploring generative AI in new ways, Nendo is currently doing research on this in Nigeria and Kenya, not to mention experimenting (with consent) for our clients on some of their projects and campaigns.

Reach out if you'd like to have a discussion on this at

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