Ad Department Invasion: The Rise of Robots in Marketing

Jun 2, 2023
Kirk Clyne & Suzanne Reeves
Illustration of crazed-looking robots invading an office setting, knocking over computers and causing chaosIllustration of crazed-looking robots invading an office setting, knocking over computers and causing chaos

Ad Department Invasion: The Rise of Robots in Marketing

Google recently announced a slew of new AI-driven features for advertisers, and Meta announced one too.

Today, we'll focus on Google's Performance Max and Product Studio, and take a quick look at Meta's AI Sandbox.

Why? Because with these tools, these companies are aiming to change how advertising assets — and whole campaigns — are created. And as a designer, it's important that you stay up to speed.

Performance Max: Collaboration Ad Creation with AI

Let's say you want to advertise a new physical product for your client, like a skin cream. You've already designed a website, and you have a product page you want to drive to. Great.

Now, your agency has to develop messaging for the campaign. And imagery. The design department may have to churn out dozens of nearly identical display ads, in various dimensions, and as static, animated or video-based ads. And then the performance marketing folks will determine the best keywords to bid on.

This process can take a couple of weeks, and typically involves coordination among several people across more than one department — from performance marketing strategists and data analysts to art directors, copywriters and designers.

Here's the new workflow — all of which takes place inside of Performance Max:

  1. Enter a landing page URL from your website — the place you want to drive ad traffic to.
  2. Google's AI automatically analyzes and summarize the content of your page.
  3. Based on this analysis, along data from your past campaigns, the AI then generates relevant assets for your ad campaign. These include recommended keywords, sample headlines, written descriptions, and even a selection of images from your site that might work well in ads.
  4. Finally, you review these AI-generated suggestions in conversation with the AI's chat bot, and make any necessary edits before launching your campaign.
Screen Shot of Performance Max showing an active chatbot conversation.
Image from Google

The process appears relatively simple and easy for non-technical or non-creative folk to use.

Screen Shot of Performance Max showing an active chatbot conversation, suggested headlines and an ad preview.
Image from Google

Oh, and in addition to pulling recommended images from your site, the new AI-powered tool can also generate new images for your campaign, from scratch.

Throughout the process, you provide feedback and direction by interacting with the tool's built-in chatbot in a conversational manner — much like you might collaborate with a colleague.

You can literally ask it for suggestions on how to improve your ad campaign's performance, and work iteratively to fine-tune your assets while keeping an eye on the built-in "Ad Strength" indicator.

Screen shot of the Performance Max interface that includes images, a chat panel, headlines, descriptions and a preview of the ad.
Image from Google

Look closely at that screenshot above to spot all the features: Recommended images, a chatbot discussion about the focus of the messaging, auto-generated headlines and descriptions, and a performance indicator for ad strength.

Since the bot uses Google's data from past campaigns, and analyzes the merchant's website, it's likely that the ads it produces will be more effective than average. And in early tests, users have apparently reported both higher ad strengths and a significant reduction in effort.

The tool is expected to start rolling out to select US advertisers in early July, but it's not too soon to start thinking about the impact for agencies, and designers in particular.

We're able to deliver more relevant, beautiful ads to users, offer more creative freedom for advertisers, and deliver better performance.”  
—Jerry Tischler, VP / General Manager, Ads, Google

(Beautiful ads? We're in a wait-and-see pattern on that point.)

In case you missed it the first time, we'll mention again that the AI engine in Performance Max can generate new images for you to consider including in your ads.

Similar tools have already appeared in Canva and Adobe Express, but Google says Performance Max will create images based on the specific context of your campaign, and your offerings, ensuring that all images are highly relevant.

Plus, it claims that its generated images will automatically adhere to the platform's policies, avoiding the unpredictable or inappropriate results that other image generation tools might produce.

Screen shot of Performance Max showing a collection of generated images that look like photographs of fresh fish and house cats.
Image from Google

Google also claims that their image-generation system biases toward more diverse representation — a major problem that we've encountered so far with every generative tools. Whether Performance Max really delivers on this remains to be seen. (People are already complaining about "too many orange and white cats" in the demo images, so we won't hold our breath.)

Finally, the company also assures advertisers that they needn't worry about the legal liability of using these AI-generated images. They don't really say why not, and they also admit that the licensing rules for generative images are still being developed — which feels like quite the dodge.

But step back from these promises and they paint a pretty rosy picture: automatically generate context-appropriate, diversity-friendly images that always adhere to the platform's rules, and dodge all legal trouble.

Each one of these issues are things we've struggled with as designers, and Google's claiming they will soon be troubles of the past.

Product Studio: A Picture is Worth a Thousand... More Pictures

Google also just announced "Product Studio", a tool that will let merchants use AI to easily remove backgrounds from product shots, upscale existing product photography, and even generate new backgrounds.

Screen shot of Product Studio, showing a small product image of a skin cream. The main window shows four new renditions of the bottle surrounded by peaches and plants.
Image from Google

Suddenly, it's a snap to place your product in a different environment — like a winter scene — without returning to the photography studio, or asking a designer to spend an afternoon in Photoshop.

AI Sandbox: A Playspace for Advertisers

While it's not as impressive in scope as Performance Max, Meta recently launched AI Sandbox, a tool that offers three experimental features to advertisers.

The text feature automatically generates variations of copy for A/B testing your ads, while the image feature can generate new backgrounds behind product shots (sound familiar?).

The tool can also automatically crop images to fit various platforms and devices — even extending images with new image content where necessary.

Screen Shot of AI Sandbox showing the same makeup product superimposed against 4 different backgrounds, from an urban cityscape to soft gradients.
Image from Meta

Both Google and Meta are rolling out these new tools to advertisers in July.

So what do all these tools spell for designers, photographers, art directors and even agencies? Or you?

Now that you're up to speed, take a dive into the benefits and challenges of this new tech in our related feature, Disrupting the Creative Process: New AI Tools from Big Players.


A creative leader, designer, teacher and artist with a 20-year career, Kirk Clyne is well-positioned to help designers master new technologies and build exceptional careers in the creative industry. He co-founded Art & Science, a digital design agency that landed on the Globe & Mail’s Growth 400 list, and spent the better part of a decade teaching digital design courses at San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art College.

Suzanne is an experienced entrepreneur and design leader fascinated by AI's transformative potential. She's run her own successful design firm for the past 10 years, built and mentored design teams, and has degrees in Psychology and Fine Art. Passionate about nurturing the next generation of 'design unicorns', she helps teams and individuals leverage strategy, design, and building skills, believing AI tools can exponentially expand our creative potential.