Tech in Action: Burger King shows the ridiculous potential of AI

The QSR aims to prove the value of human creativity in a tech-obsessed industry.
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Ads created by artificial intelligence have been pegged by some as the future, and a new execution from Burger King might be a step closer to that – or a step back, depending on your perspective.

In a press release this morning, the restaurant chain announced it was testing a beta version of a deep learning algorithm and using AI to create a new ad campaign. It did this – the restaurant claims – by training the system with thousands of commercials and industry research to discover patterns and insights. From that, over 100 unique commercials were created and tested with focus groups.

When the final four videos debut on cable channels in the U.S. on Oct. 1, it will be the first time ads created entirely by AI air on national television, the company claimed in its release. But that doesn’t mean they’re good.

The resulting videos, which Burger King created with the help of agency David Miami, seem to do a pretty good job of encapsulating the kind of “creative thinking” that AI systems are capable of and the kind of logical paths they can go down. Like saying that “chicken is the new potato” and that “the potato deserved this” in a video for chicken fries. Or letting consumers know that the Whopper is flame grilled and “lives in a bun mansion, just like you” and that they should “order yourself.” Or describing a chicken sandwich by saying it “tastes like bird” a value meal offer as “two for six money bucks.” Or frequently dropping in references to “Burglar King,” how customers can “have it Uruguay” and saying “BK logo appears” out loud at the end of the ad.

While the videos do capture the off-beat humour Burger King is known for and promote a range of different offerings at the QSR, they are meant to be more of a commentary on the use of technology as a substitute for old-fashioned, human creativity in advertising and marketing.

“AI, bots, machine learning, deep learning algorithms, blockchain, among others – these are all topical as we explore our future in marketing,” said Marcelo Pascoa, global head of brand marketing at Burger King, in a statement. “But we need to avoid getting lost in the sea of technology innovation and buzzwords and forget what really matters. And that’s the idea. Artificial intelligence is not a substitute for a great creative idea coming from a real person.”

Burger King has been getting into the habit of playing with the expected capabilities of new tech, such as when it created a TV ad that would wake up someone’s Google Home device and make it do a search for the QSR’s Whopper.