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It’s Time to Zag, Not Zig: Why Generative AI Is a Flawed Answer to Creative Thinking


The great Levi’s campaigns of the 1990s, inspired by Sir John Hegarty of BBH, is one campaign that’s been my northstar as a media planner for 25 years. Launching Levi’s Black Denim, the execution showed the image of a field of white sheep facing in one direction, with a lone black sheep facing the other.

The immortal line?

“When the world zigs, zag.”

Cut to today’s marketing landscape and you’ll notice an awful lot of sheep facing in the same direction when it comes to generative AI like ChatGPT.

The Role of Creativity in Media Planning

For the purposes of this article, I’ll put aside my major reservations around the privacy issues that this kind of AI technology presents – that topic has been covered in great detail already.

My main challenge here is that successful media plans always involve a great deal of creativity. And creativity isn’t fueled by data; it’s fueled by our humanity and our innate ability to think in innovative and ingenious ways. It’s for this very reason that I’ve long championed the need for media planners to refocus their efforts on building strategies that are based on human insights, rather than relying on programmatic optimization tools to do the thinking for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong: generative AI has amazing applications in the real world — for example, website developers can use it to spot errors in code strings. We can even use it to get detailed suggestions for travel itineraries that are scraped from popular reviews.

That said, it’s also becoming evident that many media planners are now using AI technology not to shape strategy, but to actually produce their thinking for them.

Generative AI Doesn’t Create – It Summarizes

To be clear: I have no issue with using generative AI tools as a quick “backgrounder” — much like how we leverage companies like Mintel to get business backgrounds for new sectors. However, I do have an issue with using it as a shortcut to perspective.


Because the outputs of tools like ChatGPT are simply the summation of the collective. The average. The very middle of human opinion.

If ChatGPT had a flavor, it would be vanilla. If it was a color, it would be gray (or magnolia, depending on your age). And if it were a song, it wouldn’t be a hit, but a bland ballad skulking somewhere toward the bottom of the Billboard Top 100 charts.

Is that really what you want your campaigns to be built on?

Plagiarism Without Original Thought Is Still Plagiarism

Given all this, here’s my plea to media planners everywhere: if you choose to use generative AI, please use it only as another way to make yourself smarter or to streamline your workflows. Use it to knock out the mundane, mindless tasks that have to be done, so you can free up your bandwidth for the more creative and strategic planning that our line of work involves.

Never again take a ChatGPT summary and put it in a presentation or brief. If you do, do it with the same feeling of embarrassment that a high schooler feels when they’ve forgotten to write their essay and then copied it from the web.

Because plagiarism without original thought is still plagiarism. But, unlike the high schooler who might’ve copied a great author’s perspective, you’re just sharing the most average of consensus from a ChatGPT summary.

Want to learn more about our “humanity-driven” approach to media planning? Contact us today to schedule a quick 15-minute chat with our Media team.

About the Author
Will Phipps is the SVP of Media at A&G. He’s dedicated to taking a more human approach to media strategy – one that uses emotional connection to drive clients’ performance.

Hero image courtesy of Azam