How the rise of AI makes people more important in marketing

Freepik CMO Carlos Cantu explains why generative AI will never be able to replace the unique talents and skills of people.

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Carlos Cantu is CMO of Freepik, a search engine that helps users find high-quality images for their projects. He knows firsthand how the widespread use of generative AI is changing marketing We talked with him about that, what this means for creators and why he thinks this makes artists more valuable than ever. (Interview edited for length and clarity)

Q: Why do I need original images now that I can generate my own images with AI?

A: Generative AI is here to change the whole industry. It is transforming many industries, but probably our industry was affected first, maybe a year earlier than most. So we’ve been talking, breathing, thinking about AI for a year. In that time we found out that AI comes with a lot of opportunities for us and our users, the people who need to design something.  Designers, web designers, content creators — they still have the same needs. And AI is giving us an opportunity to provide them with better solutions. 

People come to Freepik because they are looking for an easier way to create better designs and do that faster. That’s what we understand. We also believe that these users are looking for designs because they want to express their ideas in a better way. 

So it’s like back in the day when I was a copywriter, I remember struggling sometimes to communicate my idea with my creative director.  The idea I had in my mind was difficult to share in a good way with my creative director. Our users have that same struggle of how can I better communicate the idea I have in my head and we offer them solutions for that. 

AI is only a tool that will allow us to do that. We now have an AI solution. We call it text to image, where you enter a prompt and it offers our users an image. We see our users are taking advantage of this, but it doesn’t always solve the problem for them. Hopefully, a lot of people will try it and realize, “Oh, thinking in images is a very different tool than the one I have.” Everybody thinks they can be a graphic designer until they put it on the page. And then they realize they really need a professional. 

Yes, it’s sometimes it’s as easy as entering a prompt. But if you don’t have the talent, if you don’t have the visual culture, if you don’t have the idea, it’s not so simple. It’s like any tool, you need someone who has an idea first, who knows how to use the tool second, and third has the talent to make it look good.

Dig deeper: What does the future hold for genAI? The Gartner Hype Cycle

When we interview our users, it’s very common for them to say, “AI is my new trainee. It solves the problem for me and helps me with a lot of the basics.’ It is very freeing and that’s why I think we will be relevant to them in this new era.

Q: We’ve seen what the internet has done to music, where anybody not named Beyoncé or Taylor Swift or Shakira can’t make a living off their recorded work. The same has happened with a lot of image creators. And that was happening before AI. Is there anything that can be done so that the creators are paid for their work in a reasonable manner?

A: That’s one of the biggest challenges we have and every technological innovation comes with these types of challenges. We need to find new rules and new ways to be fair. But, at the same time, I still believe that the ones who are the real creators, that come up with new solutions for whatever the challenge, will still have a good opportunity. 

Those who have been depending on being the only one using a tool in the right way might struggle because these tools are becoming more and more accessible to anyone. So if that’s the case, maybe you will need to find a new way to make a living. But if what makes you stand out is your creativity, your ideas, I think you will have new opportunities. I might be a little bit naive but it is what I believe.

Q: When I can just take an image and say to a generative AI, I want something like that — why won’t everyone in marketing do that?

A: Six years ago there was this campaign for Microsoft called Next Rembrandt. They entered all this data from Rembrandt’s paintings and then they asked the machine, ”OK, now that you’ve seen all the work that Rembrandt did, make a new Rembrandt.” It made one, but it’s not Rembrandt. It looks very easy when you’re copying an artist but I think a machine will never make something original. That’s much more challenging.

Q: So how will AI impact marketing?

A: We’re going to see AI embedded in the whole process from the idea generation to the final production of the content piece. It’s going to be an accelerator for many things. I don’t think it will end up being a substitute. I think it’s just an accelerator. When I started my career Macs were coming into all the creative agencies, but I met the older creative directors and art directors who didn’t have one. They still had their pens and their paints and they still had their jobs. Their ideas were still better than mine and I was using a Mac.

I can see many marketers thinking, “Hey, I don’t have to pay for a copywriter. I just ask the machine.” Once a lot of marketers start to start to do that it’s going to be very difficult to find a text that stands out.

A creative director is more needed than ever. The one who will win is the one who has an unexpected idea, something that’s new and fresh. And maybe they’ll just do it by hand, hiring a painter instead of using Midjourney. That’s the one that will stand out. And that’s what makes this business so fun. It’s always about finding a new solution. And if someone did find the perfect solution, that won’t last because it will become the norm in six months and we’ll have to find the next perfect solution.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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