AI developments abound at agencies: Brandtech buys Pencil, Huge launches LIVE

There’s no escaping the ubiquity of generative AI, so if you can’t beat it, might as well join it.

In two separate cases, that’s just what’s happened — and it’s going to keep happening in the weeks and months ahead.

For starters, fresh off its acquisition of Jellyfish a few weeks ago, all-digital marketing and media network Brandtech Group purchased 100% of Pencil, a generative AI content maker and distribution SaaS platform. In many ways, both acquisitions have been interwoven over the last 10 months, and the news effectively delivered a one-two punch for Brandtech Group. The company declined to say the purchase price for Pencil — Brandtech Group founder and CEO David Jones joked that it was $1 trillion.

Brandtech, explained Jones, has already launched Pencil Pro, what he described as an enterprise generative AI product that’s designed for the big brands of the world — since Pencil has historically worked largely with small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs). The two companies got underway with developing Pencil Pro about six months ago.   

Two big brands have already signed on — Unilever and Bayer — since Brandtech and Pencil had already been collaborating over the last several months. 

Founded in 2018 by Will Hanschell and Sumukh Avadhani, Pencil bases its AI work on Open AI’s GPT family of large language models, off of which the company generates multiple channel-ready ads and copy by looking at a brand’s objectives, assets and preferences. Unlike what most humans at agencies can do, Pencil also provides a predicted success rate for each iteration of creative it makes.

“We think you do all marketing better, faster and cheaper by using technology. And obviously, AI and generative AI just put that on steroids,” said Jones, who first crossed paths with Pencil’s team about four years ago.

Hanschell said Pencil Pro’s mission is largely the same as the core Pencil product given that big brands are often looking for the same thing as SMBs: speed, efficiency and lower cost. Where Pro has to raise its game, he added, is offering more control given that bigger brands have more rules to follow, and offering air tight safety guidelines. “It’s not just the technology side but the governance side too,” he said.

“We also believe that in order to really deliver for the world’s biggest brands, you need the human in the loop,” said Jones, adding that, contrary to the belief that AI puts people out of work, he plans to increase the number of people working in AI.

Which is why Brandtech is making pretty immediate use of Jellyfish in the absorption of Pencil’s expertise and knowledge by employing Jellyfish staff to train 1,000 Brandtech employees. “Jellyfish has a real expertise in tech training and how to assimilate knowledge, make it accessible and share across large organizations,” said Rebecca Sykes, Brandtech Group’s emerging tech lead and associate partner.  

Meanwhile, IPG shop Huge yesterday announced it has developed and deployed a proprietary AI-powered system it has dubbed Living Intelligence Value Engine (LIVE) in a bid to unlock new areas of growth for its clients. According to Mat Baxter, Huge’s global CEO, LIVE has been up and running for a few months. 

LIVE essentially crunches vast amounts of data to try to identify new trends and insights a human might miss that can lead to white-space opportunities for clients.

“We’ve learned from these past waves of transformative technology that real advantage does not come from an inward, incremental focus, but from making what we call Huge Moves or game-changing acts of creativity that deliver lasting impact and powerful outcomes,” said Baxter in a statement.

The interest in and adoption of AI has been staggering of late, and a Spotify/WARC study released this morning essentially confirms the trend. The study asked 350 brand marketers and agency creatives in the U.S. and U.K. about generative AI, and 91% of agencies responded they plan to adopt it, while 81% of all respondents said they plan to increase their use of generative AI in the next 12 months.

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