March 16, 2024

AI and the Death of Serendipity

Smathers Beach in Key West, FL

I spend a lot of time in Key West and have been to Smathers Beach more times than I can count. This past weekend, as I leaned my rusty beach bike against a pole, I noticed a small boat coming into view, ideally positioned for an amazing photo. I fumbled through my backpack to grab my phone and snapped the pic just in time, seconds before the boat caught a gust of wind and sailed out of the frame.

Smathers Beach in Key West, FL

I was so excited and proud of the image I captured. I couldn’t wait to make some minor edits, a few color corrections, and share with my friends on Instagram. And then I had a thought. A thought that was both exciting and depressing at the same time…

This photo could’ve easily been recreated with AI.

For all you know, I could’ve added the boat after I snapped the photo. If I wanted to, I could’ve added a better, bigger boat and a more vibrant, colorful sky. For all you know, this entire photo is fake.

So what was the point? Why did I even take the photo? Is anybody even going to appreciate my serendipitous moment, or will it simply be drown out in a sea of (increasingly fake) content?

To me, the fact that my photo IS real and this story IS real makes it special. It makes it authentic and meaningful.

What does any of this have to do with branding?

A lot, actually. Soon – if not already – AI will be able to create perfect brands. These brands will have perfectly targeted messaging, cool logos, and beautiful imagery. These brands will also be backed by research and strategy that is technically correct in every way imaginable. But will they connect with their intended audiences on an emotional level? Will people fall in love with AI-based brands and become faithful disciples as they are with Apple, Harley Davidson, and Tesla? That remains to be seen, but I have my doubts.

Much like digital vs. analog music, I believe something intangible will be missing. These AI creations may come across cold and inauthentic. I must confess, I’m not a fan of much of today’s music, especially all the auto-tune songs backed by electronic trap beats. Sure, this new music is efficient to produce, catchy, and technically perfect. Millions love it. But it can sometimes lack the character of the “flawed” music we enjoyed in the past.

The power, efficiency, and stunning growth of AI is truly breathtaking and I have no doubts it will get even better over time. Probably sooner than we can imagine. But will AI ever be able to truly connect with humans on an emotional level? Or will it always seem a bit too cold, robotic, and perfect.

Time will tell. I prefer to think of AI as a tool to improve – not replace – human creativity and intuition. And for the sake of real humans everywhere, I hope it stays this way. Perhaps my next post will be about all the ways brand strategists and designers can leverage AI tools to increase efficiency without losing that vital human touch.

But for now, I’m going to head back to the beach and enjoy the best, most engaging, most authentic brand of all time, Mother Nature. And perhaps a Corona or two. Oh, and I’ll keep my camera handy, just in case.