How Lexus programmed a machine to write the world’s first AI-scripted ad

Lexus used data on 15 years of award-winning luxury campaigns, as well as information about the brand and human emotion to create a 60-second film that tells the story of a car that comes to life and will inevitably lead to questions about whether artificial intelligence can do the same creative job as humans.

Lexus has created the first ever advert scripted entirely by artificial intelligence – a dramatic 60-second film that tells the story of a car that comes to life to mark the launch of its new ES executive saloon car.

Like Frankenstein’s Monster, the ad begins with a Lexus engineer admiring his creation. He looks on and sheds a tear as the car is taken away and threatened with destruction, taking to the open and stormy roads before being shackled and readied for an imminent crash test that is being broadcast live on TV while its owner watches in suspense.

It is the car’s automatic emergency braking system that saves the day, demonstrating one of the main technological features built into the ES model.

The production process, which Lexus says took no longer than a normal campaign (around six months from brief to output), involved developing the bespoke AI and training it with data including 15 years of award-winning luxury adverts, emotional intelligence about what connects most strongly with viewers and specially commissioned information about human intuition.

To avoid the risk of producing something that felt too familiar or too mass market in tone, additional data on the Lexus brand and the project guideline were inputted into the AI to keep the script original and on-brand.

Directed by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald, whose work includes The Last King of Scotland and Whitney Houston biopic Whitney, the ad was built by technical partner Visual Voice in collaboration with Lexus’s creative agency The&Partnership, with support from IBM Watson.

Man vs machine

While there are “narrative leaps” that wouldn’t pass in the cinema, the film largely makes sense and Lexus says it didn’t have to change much. And the more Lexus uses AI, the quicker it believes the creative process will become.

Perhaps most disconcertingly, the ad resonates on a very human level, raising the possibility that while a computer might not be able to understand human emotions, it has the capacity to replicate them and create an emotional connection.

But Lexus’s brand general manager, Michael Tripp, says this doesn’t mean creative agencies are going to be made redundant in favour of machines.

Philosophically, could this cut out or change the creative aspect of this process? Yes.

Michael Tripp, Lexus

Speaking to Marketing Week at the ad’s premier yesterday (15 November), Tripp explains: “Our ambition under this umbrella is not to replace the human element but to augment it.  Philosophically, could this cut out or change the creative aspect of this process? Yes. But our strategy at Lexus is we believe in man plus machine.

“I could never ask you to go look at 15 years of award-winning films and give me that data but I can now get that and use it to inform our creative.”

Lexus already has a neurological sensor built into one of its cars that measures the temperature of somebody’s face and adjusts the temperature of the car accordingly. It is this kind of information Tripp believes will allow machines to create human emotions more accurately in future.

“I don’t think it’s an understanding of the emotion,” he says. “If we connected you to neurological sensors, or if we could take that information and put it into some kind of objective information then yes. The real question is moving from objectivity to subjectivity and this is where I’ve yet to see that’s possible.

“It wouldn’t be reading your emotion, it would be the fact your heart beat increased or maybe you perspire. And this becomes objective data which can then be used to learn, adjust and adapt.”

In terms of effectiveness, Tripp says Lexus is most interested in the organic response. “Anything that happens online or on social we typically see a return of 2% to 5%,” he says.

“For me, what we can use is organic and sentiment to see what people think before we start putting paid behind it. So we have a little bit of this luxury and that’s how we’ll measure it, as well as post testing.”

The film will be unveiled on Monday (19 November) across Europe in cinemas and on digital and social channels.