MsaniiGPT - Making a Creative Director AI Chatbot to Transform the Kenyan Ad Industry

The Brief - Creating Frankenstein?

This week, if a client approached Nendo and asked me, "Mark, I need you to create the greatest artificial intelligence (AI) copywriter and creative director Kenya has ever known. Here's a blank cheque. Figure out how you want to do this..."

With the work we do at Nendo in our research and marketing practices, this idea has come to mind often for me. Weeks ago, I wrote about how corporates can build using generative AI. Today, I'd like to walk you through how I'd approach this strange question of creating a new employee, not on the factory floor of a manufacturing plant or the desk of a call centre but in the middle of a creative studio.

So, what would an AI-based copywriter and creative director be like? What if it brought together the wit of a Teddie Muthusi, the eye of a Robert Ng'ang'a, the glass-ceiling-breaking genius of a Judy Kibinge, the galaxy brain of Jimmy Gitonga, or the curiosity of an Andrew White? How would it incorporate the trailblazing of a Max Ngari, the inventiveness of an Angie Njagi, the artistry of a Fady Rostom, or the dot-connecting of a Rehema Chege and the problem-solving of a Tosh Juma or the lens of a Mbithi Masya into its ideas?

I could go on. After all, it takes a village to raise an award-winning marketing campaign. I'm yet to list all the clients who took a leap with their briefs and a bet on the bold ideas that followed them through the past decades. As far as creative professionals go, I get inspired by seasoned veterans and vigorous students. There are dozens more I look up to, hundreds more who have influenced me (many of whom might not even know it) and greater numbers that I admire.

How would we bring such a chatbot, contraption, or creature together?

AI & Machine Learning - Our Magic Pill

In the world of ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot from famed research firm OpenAI, this question is increasingly more achievable. ChatGPT is built on top of one of many Large Language Models (LLMs), which tend to be trained on trillions of words. Then, the AI works by predicting which words go together and would valuably respond to a prompt from the user.

What makes this moment particularly curious is that on the 10th of January 2024, OpenAI launched the "GPT Store", where developers and lay people alike could build GPTs (Generative Pre-training Transformers). This now means that within ChatGPT, there is the ability to build purpose-built GPTs, akin to having apps on an Android or iOS smartphone. So, consider this the virtual abode where our AI creative companion would live. A full-time employee who never takes a day off, working through the holidays, weekends, and around the clock - so long as you prompt the chatbot.

How would we ‘create’ our Kenyan AI copywriter and creative director?

Our first stop would begin with the end product and work backwards. I would start with every great advertising and marketing campaign over the past 25 years. I would take them all from radio ads and their jingles to print ads and their taglines. Then, it evolved to modern times with television commercials and their treatments and scripts, seeking out all the work that moved the needle in Kenyan society.

The aim would be to assemble over 1,000 different types of great Kenyan advertising campaigns from years past. Think of 200 television commercials, 200 print ads, 200 radio scripts, 200 marketing activation plans, and 200 digital campaign case studies. I would even weave in some that are in different ethnic languages but performed at a national level. The goal here would be to sample the best of what Kenya's marketing, design, copy, and creative minds have developed over the years.

As Nendo is both a research and marketing agency in one,  marketing effectiveness would have to be featured. It would involve scrutinising the campaigns in which the creative work delivered measurable business results: salience, penetration, fame, brand building, sales activation, excess Share of Voice, and the entire bouquet of marketing effectiveness terms and concepts. It might begin to separate the top 10% of campaigns that were impressively creative and, importantly, commercially successful in shifting perceptions and behaviour. I've always wished Nendo would build a database akin to the UK's Institute of Practitioners of Advertising (IPA) and their Data Bank of marketing effectiveness case studies. If Kenya were to one day set up its own Effies, an award ceremony built to focus on how marketing drives business results, it would bring a tear to my eye.

The next step would be explaining what worked about these campaigns in as many words as necessary. Words to explain the sheng, slang, Swahili, vernacular, and cultural contexts. Creating as many words as possible to describe the creative output and rationales. Hypothesising why they delivered and made sense. Keep in mind that Large Language Models (LLMs) work with words. When done with this, decisions might have context, such as why certain voices were chosen or visual creative choices were taken. Anything to feed the AI engine with Kenyan context. Still images, photo compositions, dates, times, locations, and more would serve as fodder for this.

Then, we'd need to chronicle why the work landed and struck a chord with Kenyans. More words. Feeding the machine for the reason that it is "Mimi ni Member" and not "Mimi ni Memba." To find a way to distil strange idiosyncracies of the creative geniuses that midwifed and birthed game-changing marketing campaign ideas. 

We can't replicate the work of the idea coming to a copywriter in the middle of a busy commute in the back of a matatu, music flowing through earphones, watching the blur of oncoming traffic in Nairobi's smoggy haze, or replicating the copywriter on a smoke break fiddling with a bug on the floor on a rooftop in Nairobi's uncannily cold and breezy Julys. Or the awkward silence that befalls a boardroom as the main idea that everyone worked on for the past two weeks falls flat, and the creative director has to ad-lib by stepping up to the whiteboard and quenching their dry throat with a gulp of saliva before waving a whiteboard marker and cracking the brief in a moment of unscripted genius. It would be impossible to capture lighting in a bottle, particularly in a city with as many contrasts, coincidences, and curiosities as Nairobi. I would struggle to translate a way to capture a millionth of the incalculable essence and translate this into words for the 'machine.'

At some point, we'd run out of words to add and just need to ‘turn it on’. Akin to Frankenstein, we'd need to test how this Kenyan AI Copywriter and Creative Director works. We would need a brief. And as a researcher, you can expect me to have a control group and a treatment group. The AI on its own would serve alongside a creative team (copywriter and art director) as the treatment group, and a regular warm-blooded art & copy team of Nairobi creative professionals would work as usual. Man vs. machine. A duel for the ages.

A final word on Mutura and Machines

Even if the AI were to work, I would need help with the idea that a chatbot could do what creative professionals in Nairobi do. Having seen my team use ChatGPT+, Midjourney, Perplexity, and other tools over the past few months, AI is exciting, but I have yet to find the ‘soul’ behind it.

I'd liken it to an online conversation regarding mutura, a street food African blood sausage often made at nyama choma (barbeque) joints across the country. Thanks to TikTok's wonders, there have been videos of Asian chefs preparing a replica of the same dish, especially regarding the ingredients.

The surprising remarks from Kenyans were that it just isn't the same. "There's too much light there," one would say - referring to studio lighting in the TikTok video compared to the dingy and dim lighting often where mutura is prepared and served. "The cleaning surfaces (in the video) are too clean," another would add. Expressing a disappointment that the kitchen surfaces, chopping board, knives, and utensils are too sanitary, not allowing for an uncoordinated yet delicious mingling of flavours. Others would remark that if the mutura isn't prepared on the street with the smog, dust, and less-than-sanitary conditions, there's a flavour and a heart-racing risk level of H-pylori that beats the purpose of the mutura itself.

Could this be why our AI-generated Kenyan creative would fail? Kenyans are non-linear. Like Sunny Bindra said, they are peculiar. So why would the creative ideas to change their hearts, capture their minds, or move their wallets come out of a test tube laboratory - even when it is the world's best AI copywriter?

Mark Kaigwa - Founder at Nendo. Delivering grounded African insights and trends through the work we do.

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