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jessica clark Jessica Clark

Artificial Simply Won’t Cut It

AI. This acronym may look small. But unless you’ve been living under a rock, small is probably the last word you’d use to describe AI.

If you use FaceID to open your phone, it’s powered by AI. When Netflix recommends a movie for you to watch, it’s not someone behind a screen at Netflix HQ making the suggestion. It’s AI. And that article at the top of your email inbox? It’s another one about … you guessed it … AI.

Needless to say, artificial intelligence (AI) has been integrated into virtually every aspect of our lives—even when we don’t realize it. But the question isn’t whether AI is going anywhere. (It isn’t.) The real question is when and how should it be used? More specifically, in the world of branding, can it be used to create a logo, name a company or perform other tasks that have traditionally been led by creative professionals? Here’s our official answer.

Inspiration? Yes. Replacement? Absolutely Not.

“You still need an extremely professional artist who understands what they’re doing to take anything AI generates and make it usable.” -Jesse LuBera, Brand Designer

To dismiss AI altogether would be irresponsible on our part. We are, after all, responsible for having our clients’ backs and mastering the resources that align with our clients’ best interests. And the truth is that there are times when AI can prove advantageous to the creative process.

For example, AI can help generate poses that assist our illustrators with lighting and shading. This is especially relevant when clients want their logos to resemble themselves (think Tommy Mello’s likeness on the A1 Garage Door van). In the past, our illustrators would have to rely on either client-provided photos that depict the perfect pose and lighting (which is almost never the case), spend time searching the Internet for images that align with the concept they have in mind or photoshop multiple photos together to create the right effect. Using AI, our illustrators can create strategic prompts that will help generate an image to use as inspiration for the more technical aspects of an illustration (shadow, light, depth, etc.).

However, (and this is a HUGE however), we do not begin the process using AI. If our illustrators use AI as an additional resource, it’s only after the concept and sketch have already been created. The vast majority of the creative work has already been done. It’s now a matter of using tools (one of which might involve AI) to refine the art and reach that point of perfection.

While AI might be helpful for strengthening an existing concept, it can in no way replace human illustration. Jesse LuBera, one of our brand designers, has found AI programs such as Midjourney to be a useful reference tool for color palettes, lighting, etc. But AI can never replace the value and ownership of art created by real artists. As Jesse explains: “You still need an extremely professional artist who understands what they’re doing to take anything AI generates and make it usable.” To prove his point, Jesse redirected his computer screen and prompted the program to generate an image of a man wearing a polo shirt and holding a wrench. While the program generated a realistic image of a man, the jury is still out on what the man was holding. But it was certainly not a wrench.

Where AI Really Misses the Mark

Besides creating images that depict questionable (possibly non-existent) metal tools, AI communicates its most fundamental flaw right in the name itself. Artificial intelligence is just that—artificial. And if you asked us to pick one word to describe the most effective kind of marketing out there, we’d choose “authentic.”

AI can be used to analyze data at a rate that would make heads spin. It can automate certain tasks that have traditionally been time consuming and even dangerous for humans to do. But AI cannot replace the human mind. And considering the majority of our deliverables rely on the inner workings of the creative mind, we’re making the argument that AI cannot replace creative professionals (yay, employment!). It can certainly allow an agency to allocate more time toward sketching and brainstorming—the core creative work. But the notion it can lead the creative is not only misleading … it’s dangerous. Of course, you wouldn’t consider it dangerous if the idea of artificially based branding and marketing is appealing to you (or your customers, for that matter.) Here are a few additional points to consider:

It’s Not Just a Name or a Logo—It’s a Brand

“If you use AI to create your tagline or your logo, you’re getting a singular output. It’s not able to craft the story or image that’s authentically you. That’s the difference between AI and us.” -Dan Antonelli, Owner

Dan Antonelli, the president and creative director of KickCharge Creative, recently released his latest book, Branded Not Blanded: KickCharge Your Home Service Brand. In the very first chapter, Dan introduces the brand wheel. While many people think their logo is their brand, Dan says otherwise. The logo is an intrinsic part of the brand, but the brand contains many other elements, such as the brand voice, web design, TV and radio ads, social media and more.

The reason we’re referring back to the brand wheel is because it’s an extremely important concept that guides the creation of a new brand. It’s also one that AI can’t even begin to comprehend. Dan puts it best:

“If you use AI to create your tagline or your logo, you’re getting a singular output. It’s not able to craft the story or image that’s authentically you. That’s the difference between AI and us. We’re building your story. We’re making sure the brand can be applied to all of the different assets a home service company would need. And that’s just not something AI understands. Can you use it for inspiration? Sure. But you still need to rely on a team of professionals who specialize in brand integration—people who can forecast how the brand will function on every different platform and then execute that strategy to produce the intended results. So it’s important to consider whether you’re trying to just create a logo or a name, or you’re trying to create a brand. Hopefully, it’s the latter, because a strong brand (one that’s created by actual professionals) is the singlehandedly most effective way to reduce your long-term marketing spend and truly stand out in your market.”

Last (But Certainly Not Least): The Legal Liabilities

Here at KickCharge, our goal is to help our clients become “branded” rather than “blanded.” But to stand out from the crowd, you need to be able to own what you have. Otherwise, there’s nothing stopping any Joe Shmoe from taking your name or logo and calling it their own. This is why we always encourage our clients to trademark their names and logos whenever possible. Well, one major disadvantage of AI-generated work is that it can’t be protected under copyright law. So if you think you’re saving yourself thousands of dollars by using AI, think again. What you’re actually doing is exposing your business to more risk and liability.

This past summer, a federal judge upheld a decision made by the U.S Copyright Office to deny an inventor’s request to copyright an AI-generated image. The judge ruled the absence of a “guiding human hand” made the image null and void for copyright protection. The decision was in response to the inventor’s repeated attempts to overturn the initial ruling. The inventor eventually compared AI to photography, saying his image should be entitled to the same protections as photographers who copyright their creations. The judge dismissed the claim, saying that while, “a camera may generate only a ‘mechanical reproduction’ of a scene, [it] does so only after the photographer develops a ‘mental conception’ of the photograph.” In other words, photographers need to make decisions that directly influence the final photograph, such as positioning subjects, adjusting the light and shade, etc. The judge ruled this “guiding human hand” was absent in the inventor’s art and, therefore, ineligible for copyright protection.

The Copyright Act of 1976 continues to be the governing law for most copyright-related issues today. The white elephant in the room is whether the current law can adequately address and guide the courts through the complexities posed by AI. Intellectual property lawyer Stephanie Glaser believes The Copyright Act will prevail, saying “[It] is well-equipped to handle the generative AI revolution, in the same way that it has handled previous technological revolutions … There is enough flexibility in the ‘human authorship’ ownership requirement to allow artists who use AI to obtain copyright ownership over their works if they are the ones who are controlling at least some of the creative expression—that is, in fact, what makes them artists to begin with and not autonomous machines.”

No one can predict when or if AI-generated work will receive the same level of protection as human-made art. However, as it stands today, the courts are certainly ruling in favor of illustrators, photographers, writers—the people who are actually creating the work. It’s important to remember AI does not fundamentally create something new. Rather, it pulls from different sources (i.e., existing art) to generate a “new” image. This means that if you create a logo using AI, every aspect of it can be traced back to already-existing art. It’s like taking bits and pieces of your classmates’ artwork, merging it all together and telling the teacher you created it … to which he or she would say, with a look of disapproval, “No, you did not.”

A Final Word on the ‘Magic’ of AI

When it comes to your brand—the essence of your company and the very identity that should separate you from your competitors, an AI-generated brand will do the exact opposite.

We all know it’s a highly competitive world out there. And frankly, we don’t care how many people think AI is mind-blowingly cool. We think it is, too—but we’re certainly not going to suggest using it to create your logo or write your brand voice. Going that route is taking a shortcut. And when it comes to your brand—the essence of your company and the very identity that should separate you from your competitors, an AI-generated brand will do the exact opposite. It will make your brand feel generic, cheap and robotic when it should be authentic, premium and memorable.

In closing, we turn to the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry—none other than “Harry Potter.” In the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” we learn of the mythical Elder Wand. The Elder Wand was the most powerful wand to exist, and whoever owned it was virtually unstoppable. It was not loyal to any one witch or wizard. It did not discriminate against who could own it or how it could be used—whether for good or for evil.

AI is the Elder Wand of our generation. It does not discriminate against who can use it. It can be used in a good way, and it can also be used in a not-so-good way. Therefore, one must tread lightly and use the power of AI in a way that is logical, responsible and ethical.

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