Winning Creative in 2024: Human Storytelling, AI Scale

If Newton’s third law (“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”) holds true in marketing in 2024, we’re going to see some incredible creativity.

Why? Well, 2023 wasn’t the year of storytelling or branding; it was the year of AI. ChatGPT, other GPT tools, Bard, AI-powered measurement tools and marketing automation all took higher billing and gobbled more headlines than clever or resonant marketing campaigns.

AI did more than take the focus from creativity; it encroached on it. Tools like ChatGPT and Grammarly Go offer content-production capability, and image and video-based AI tools including Canva, Runway and Visla use AI to produce images and videos. There’s a whole creative AI industry out there, churning out material for marketing campaigns without much more than a few prompts from humans.

Like many marketers out there, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the right balance of nearly limitless AI scale and the power of humanity in advertising. In 2024, we’ll see the full range: some marketers will turn up their noses at AI, while others will dive headlong into AI content and creative and leave traditional creative production methods to others. But I believe that 2024 will also provide many reminders of the power of effective, empathetic, truly human storytelling that cuts through the AI homogeneity.


I own an agency that works with B2C and ecommerce companies that rely heavily on great creative in their paid social campaigns. Here’s my perspective on the right blend of humanity and AI in today’s approach to creative.

Start with Humans

Humor, irony, quirkiness, sentimentality even inanity – all of these are common hallmarks of famous marketing campaigns. (Think Bud Light’s “Wassup” tagline or Geico’s “But We Have Aunts” commercial.) Those are based on emotions and interpersonal dynamics, neither of which AI can generate.

Whether it’s a brainstorm, a storyboarding session, a pitch contest or any other way to generate ideas from the creative brains on your team, start by welcoming all ideas and grounding them in a knowledge of what truly matters to your end user. (Bud Light knew, for example, that light beer was a common implement of hangout sessions, and Geico put a hilarious spin on the truism that new homeowners frequently encounter unforeseen issues that insurance can help mitigate.)

Every team will have its own idea-generating process. I’ve found that the keys to surfacing great concepts are psychological safety and active listening to help flesh out promising threads. Aim for a few differentiated ideas on your short list, and map out a testing approach to see if any emerge as winners.

Test Big

Iterative testing is great, and it’s an important part of optimizing UX and conversion rate optimization. Even changing a main color on an ad creative can move the needle on clickthrough rate.

That said, don’t lose the forest for the trees. Remember to test creative at the idea/concept level – play on different emotions, user desires and challenges, etc. Test different product benefits. Try humor OR commiseration. Introduce AI – tools like Kantar and Qualtrics are great here – to automate the testing process itself to get quick, low-friction insights to carry forward.

Use AI to Reformat and Iterate

This stage – editing, reformatting, translating across different media – is where AI truly shines. Whether it’s using text-to-image tools like DeepAI to give yourself a visual starting point or using Canva Magic to transform pre-existing media into richer, more interactive material, AI can supercharge production and format diversification to quickly get your campaigns live across channels.

The iterative testing I mentioned above is great to implement once you’ve identified your winning concepts, and AI accelerates this capability as well. You can test things like different video aspect ratios, accent colors and CTAs to see if any of them move the needle. There’s a human layer here in identifying your testing goals – which KPIs you’re trying to measure or which insights you’re trying to gain. AI can rev up the testing engine, but make sure there’s a human with hands on the wheel.

Going Forward

AI is evolving daily; by the time you read this, AI might have the ability to create humor. It might be able to simulate empathy. But there will always be an emotional layer that humans alone can provide.

If you’ve heard “Now and Then,” the Beatles song released in November of 2023 with a huge assist from AI, you probably marveled at the way the technology seamlessly mimicked the sound and feel of other Beatles songs from that era. The key word there, though: mimicked. AI couldn’t produce John Lennon any more than it can produce the next breakthrough marketing concept.

Keep AI in its proper place – iterating, remixing, reformatting, measuring and optimizing – to help humans produce and test emotionally centered creative more quickly, and your brand will be well positioned to stand above the hum of automation and make genuine connections with your current and future customers.

Bryan Karas is the Founder and CEO of Playbook Media, a full-service digital marketing agency that works with clients in B2C, ecommerce and B2B. Karas formerly co-founded the Facebook Disruptors team to help high-growth companies overcome growth challenges, and he has led numerous multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns at QuinStreet and Marin Software. A serial entrepreneur and optimist who believes in marketing’s power to change the world for the better, he lives in San Diego with his wife and two kids.

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