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AI Doesn’t Have Main Character Energy…Yet

By Ryan Lynch, Co-CEO and Co-Owner of Beardwood&Co

The first moving pictures were flickering images of movement—a horse running at a gallop. 

The goal was to answer a not-so-simple question at the time. Do all of a horse’s hooves leave the ground at a full gallop? It would take horse enthusiasts and railroad magnate Leland Stanford to commission photographer Eadweard Muybridge to create the first piece of film, The Horse In Motion. When people witnessed these moving images, they gasped. It also made notable horse artists of their day weep to learn how horse hooves genuinely appeared while in a full trot. But there was no story; it was pure spectacle, an entirely new experience.

Of course, film became one of the greatest storytelling tools humans have created. The technology and medium became ubiquitous when they could better tell our stories. Those first flickering images of horses expanded to include scripts, sound, color, CGI, and 3D IMAX. And that’s not to say that every new tool creates a storytelling masterpiece. Technology always risks overwhelming the core of storytelling. And that’s also where we are with generative AI. 

We’re still in the early oohs, ahs, and the Harry Potter-ing everything. Open AI’s text-to-video generator, Sora, made that more real. Instead of horses, we gasped as a herd of woolly mammoths charged toward us in a snowy prehistoric valley.  It does feel like magic, and it’s hard not to be swept away by some of the profoundly psychedelic realms or glossy images of imaginary brands. But for all the wizardry generative AI deliverers, the storytelling is lacking. For brands, that’s a problem.

What seems like magic is a machine predicting what comes next based on its training data and a user's prompts and input. LLMs are fancy—and expensive—math equations built to connect words that are nearby. Think GMail and how it can suggest the following few words. They're there because it's what you're likely to say next, not because it’s the best thing to say next—garbage in, garbage out. The same is true for image and video generators. 

Ryan Lynch, Co-CEO and Co-Owner of Beardwood&Co

Our Main Character Energy  

Generative AI text-to-image models are sometimes called dream machines, but they don’t dream in narratives. Yes, they dream of Electric Sheep but can’t envision Little Bo-Peep fan fiction with character arcs, emotions, or dialogue. Pretty pictures are delightful, but the human brain comes hardwired for stories–neural science proves this

At its most basic, we can define a story as “something has changed.” Take, for example, the six-word story from Ernest Hemingway; "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." It still resonates and is remarkably effective because we can’t help but chase after the why of the bare-bones arc. Why weren’t they worn? Who and why are they even selling them? In turn, we empathize with this imagined character. That persistent self-awareness and empathy are what make humans such good storytellers. In its current state, AI can’t bring me along on a journey and convince me of anything. There's no emotion, storytelling, or understanding of where I come from to relate to my needs. 

It’s one of our most defining human traits—you could even call it our main character energy.

Remember those flickering horse images? Coca-Cola is likely the furthest ahead in using AI for brand storytelling. Y3000, the soda that “tastes like the future,” was a limited-edition release co-created with human and artificial intelligence; it even took over the Las Vegas Sphere with a week of GenAI experiences. While the enormous images on the sphere lack story and coherence, QR codes and AR applications delivered that main character energy by letting fans imagine futuristic visuals with a Y3000 AI cam.

“Create Real Magic” marked Coca-Cola’s best entry into the world of AI, allowing folks to construct AI-generated holiday cards with its iconic holiday assets and giving people a little agency with the brand. The Christmas campaign gets closer by adding some imaginative storytelling into the mix. “The world needs more Santas” was a story waiting to happen. GenAI creates a blizzard of Santas delivering random acts of kindness, inviting us to be Santa ourselves that resonates with audiences. But again, it’s only with Human Intelligence—the old HI—that the campaign has an emotional core.

Meanwhile, the press roasted Instacart for AI-generated food images that will haunt your nightmares in the uncanny valley—seriously, there’s a hot dog stir fry, but the insides of the meat tube look more like a tomato. Within ten minutes, using a simple 10-word prompt, one of our team generated mouth-watering pizza images that passed muster. It proves that not only was Instacart lazy in its use of AI, but brands and designers can’t just enter a prompt and cross their fingers. 

We know that AI is only just getting started. By every prediction, it has the potential to revolutionize storytelling the same way film did. We’re starting to train new AI assistants on new data sets with new intelligence types. Subtxt is one of many trained on narrative flows and the intricacies of stories. Time will tell if it breaks the storytelling code.

My gut says it won’t. There's no storytelling without awareness or the main character energy of HI. AI can mimic storytelling and string together patterns, but because there’s no observer and no one to mind the store, there's no empathy. 

Ultimately, AI is a tool, like any other human tool. What's critical to remember is that brands aren’t the center of stories—people are. Brands help people along their journey. They are the Yoda to Luke or Leia, minus the funny voice and pointy ears.

Use AI as a co-pilot or vehicle for people to express their very human main character energy. That’s how we use it every day. We jokingly refer to it as our “digital interns.” They’re paid, quite useful, and require an expert hand to guide them. They assist in research, ideating, performing category analysis, or helping us find the boundaries of a brand voice. It does make life easier, sure. But you still need HI and empathy to guide the craft of storytelling. I am optimistic about brands using these tools to tell more engaging stories, like those first flickering images that left us in awe.  

So give folks their main character energy. It’s only human. ‘The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.’ 

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1 Comment

jarry don
jarry don
Jun 27

Le menu McDonald's en France propose un délicieux mélange de plats traditionnels et de saveurs locales uniques. Des burgers classiques comme le Big Mac et le Cheeseburger aux créations d'inspiration française comme le Croque McDo et Le Royal Cheese, le menu répond à une grande variété de goûts. Les variantes françaises comme la McBaguette et le McWrap mettent également en valeur les ingrédients et les préférences locales.


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