PJ Pereira on How AI Is Changing Creative Advertising | Podcast

PJ Pereira on How AI Is Changing Creative Advertising | Podcast

Interview by Vianca MeyerVianca Meyer
Published: April 27, 2023

Who Is PJ Pereira

PJ Pereira is an industry leader in advertising with over 20 years of experience in the industry. He is hailed as an advertising and entertainment pioneer, and is the founder of the award-winning creative agency Pereira O’Dell, an Emmy winner, multiple Cannes Grand Prix winner and an ongoing member of the Ad Council Board of Directors.

As the advertising industry continues to evolve, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent. Brands and agencies are recognizing the potential of AI to enhance their creative processes and improve the effectiveness of their campaigns.

In this podcast interview, PJ Pereira, founder of Pereira O'Dell, shares his insights on the impact of AI on the advertising industry. Pereira also discusses the benefits of using AI in the creative processes of advertising agencies, highlighting how it can help brands connect with their target audiences more meaningfully.

Spotlight: You must have been an incredibly creative kid. What was it that initially influenced you?

PJ Pereira: I always liked to draw and to write. Later I started to play on computers and learned to program. It was easier to find me drawing or writing or programming, which are, in my head, all creative activities, instead of playing soccer, like most of the other kids.  

I think that the creative life has always been there for me, it was an impulse more than anything. The difficulty was to keep it alive instead of just letting go and joining the rest of the pack, you know?

The creative process and the creative mind are a very inefficient mind. But the difference between creative people and non-creative people is that I don't care about the inefficiency. I don't care about having a thousand bad ideas that I'm going to throw away because when one of them hits, when the thousand and first one hits, then its original. It’s different and interesting. 

That is the most difficult part for a kid growing up. I think it's a problem with our educational system and the way we set things up in society. We make efficiency feel like such an important thing. It kills originality. 

It was easy for our generation to pick up those different types of skills and find interest in many different things. The hardest part is not letting go of too many of them so you can carry them with you throughout your career.  

There's something kind of magical happening right now that I really like. If you turn on TikTok and look at what's on it, most of it is honestly garbage. And that's awesome!  

It means that people are producing content without worrying too much if it's great or not. When people create things at volume without worrying about the quality, that's when creativity is actually happening. It's very counterintuitive, but that's what it is. That's what the rational mind doesn't understand. If you take the rationality of it, it’s all backwards. “Oh, so you mean that creating and doing bad things is what leads to good? No, it can't be.”

What you're saying is that rationality and creativity do not mix. 

I'm not saying that they don’t mix. I'm saying that they are opposite processes. The rational starts from point A and tries to get to point B as quickly, sharply, economically and efficiently as possible. Creative thinking understands what point A is and what point B is and tries a bunch of things. Once there's a line connecting, it's a wiggly, curvy and multi-dimensional line.

One is focused on getting there in the most efficient way. The other one is trying to get there in a way that is not expected.  

It's an interesting way for people, especially on TikTok, to find their niche. 

The beauty of the creative process, whether you're writing a book or making a TikTok, is the freedom to fail. Failure is a part of the process. I do martial arts as a hobby, for example. I noticed that on days that I'm allowing myself to make more mistakes, I don’t mind losing a fight because I want to try different things. That's part of the process of discovering new techniques and new ways of doing things.  

The freedom to test is quintessential for the creative process. That's why we play. This is not a human thing; all mammals are hardwired to play. That's one of the biggest differences neurologically between a mammal and any other kind of creature. Insects don't play, but a lion cub plays. You discover the rules of the world, whether they are physics or social. You discover by trying things.  

That's why so many people say that children lose their creativity along the way, because they eventually understand that playing is great for discovery, but a lot of time leads to the wrong conclusion. You're taught that failure is bad. When in the pursuit of efficiency, we lose our playfulness and our creativity. When you look at TikTok, or social media in general, it is an environment of playfulness. People do the craziest things, and they don't care that much. 

What was the toughest part of breaking into that industry for you? 

It wasn't hard to break in. It was the beginning of the web, so I sent an email to a couple of agencies in Brazil. I told them, “The internet is going to have something to do with advertising and I can help you figure that out.” I got hired immediately. One email, one conversation, and I was in.  

The whole viability of this thing called the Internet and its importance as a medium wasn't established. Everyone that was putting any energy in it was just trying to see if it worked, while everyone else that had important jobs had assignments, deadlines, budgets and results to prove. They thought it was just a distraction.  

I probably got lucky by putting my bets on something that was a winner. It became more important than the other things. I was putting all my energy in that, and it worked for me. But there were lots of moments where I stopped and talked to my friends. “Should I just stop trying this? It's not going anywhere. Should I just join the rest and start to write TV spots and print ads for brands because that's where the money is. That's where the power is.”  

Would you say the encouragement from your peers was what made you stick it out?  

It's funny that you're asking that. I never thought about it that way, but I remember at that time having other friends that were going through the same process. There were a group of people that were trying to convince the advertising world that the Internet had a future. We had to create this kind of support group among us and when we got sadder or down, the other ones worked to cheer us up. That's important.

They weren't all my friends. In fact, some of us were so competitive that we didn't even like each other. But we needed each other to thrive. We couldn’t afford having any of our nemesis give up. We would say, “I do not like you. I do not want you to succeed too much. I want to do better than you. But stay there, because without you, I lose my sense of reason.”  

There's something to be said for looking at how other people are doing things and wanting to exceed that limit.  

Yes, having a support group doesn't necessarily mean having family that loves you or having friends that care about you. Sometimes it is having a nemesis that is going to tease you and is going to say, “Do not quit because I need to meet you tomorrow.” These conversations matter. They kept me on board. 

What do you think would be great advice to give someone that's trying to break into the industry the way it is now?  

Artificial intelligence. I have no question about that whatsoever.  

My son is 16 years old, and he wants to be a filmmaker. I was talking to my wife a few months ago and telling her that I remember the day that my uncle, who was a programmer, pulled me aside and said, “You're a creative kid. Let me give you something interesting.” He pulled out the computer and put it in front of the TV. And he taught me how to program.  

That's how I started. I ended up becoming a professional programmer and working with him. That day I was taught how computers operated and that taught me how to think. Not only as a human being, but how machines think. That changed everything. That put me on track for later when the internet came, I could understand creativity in the context of computers. That changed my creative possibilities. 

I was thinking about the equivalent of that for my son. What is the gift that I can give him that will set him apart? I have no question that it is the ability to learn how artificial intelligence operates and how computers learn.  

We ourselves at DesignRush have worked in AI as well. There's been quite an influx of prominent people in tech, Elon Musk being one of them, that have called to halt AI for several months, because they are worried about how fast it's developing and the societal risks that that could have. Do you share the same views on this? 

It's a very important thought. It seems a little performative to ask for a six-month halt. I feel like they know that it's not going to happen. What exactly are we trying to accomplish other than to say, “Oh, I told you so.” A lot of the people that have been signing these letters have been talking about the ethics of AI for years. Their concerns are the very reasonable concerns that AI operates based on goals and that it doesn't have ethical or empathetic controls over its drive to achieve that goal.  

What you see on a philosophical level is that computers learn by imitation the same way that we learn by imitation when we are kids, right? When machines learn, their cycles are much faster than ours, so they try more things. That's why they are having so much success in creative fields like generating images, because they try more things than humans can.  

I think it's a very reasonable conversation that we need to have. But it takes time that the development of AI, which operates in cycles of two weeks, does not allow us. I don't have an answer for that, but we need to find a way to accelerate the conversation and decelerate the development. It is a paradox, but we also need to bring more people into playing with AI.  

We need to bring more people to play with small-scale kinds of things because that is going to give us a better sense of what can be done, what cannot be done and what should not be done. Once we have these perspectives from the inside, as a society we're going to be able to have a wiser opinion.

All our opinions right now are influenced by a perspective that comes mostly from sci-fi books and movies, that always depicts AI as the villain and computers as monsters that one day are going to try to try to dominate us. 

Keep up with PJ Pereira on LinkedIn and read more interviews with industry leaders here!

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