Clicks ’n Tricks: OK, Marcel, make me some money

Tue, 05/06/2018 - 09:00

Putting artificial intelligence (AI) at the heart of an organisation is a very interesting play. In Publicis Groupe’ case, the intent is to harness the capabilities of Marcel to break down the boundaries that exist between its network of agencies.

About 10 days ago, Publicis unveiled the alpha version of Marcel, the much-heralded artificial intelligence-driven, voice-search-optimised tech platform that it hopes will power it into the next decade. News of its ambitions first emerged this time last year, when Publicis announced a ban on its agencies entering awards, saying at the time that it needed the funds for investment in Marcel.

Repurpose creative
It’s very smart to have a shared resource that allows, eg, different creative teams to access a database of their peers’ thinking. The majority of creative concepts fail to see the light of day because they’re deemed to not be right for a client, yet many of them are repurposable.

In a siloed network, all the effort that goes into the creative process is lost if ideas aren’t used. With the right tech backbone, there’s every chance that a rejected campaign for a Japanese beer brand could be tweaked to make it suitable for a South African brewer.

Publicis is not alone in spotting this gap. The team behind the Cannes Lions has just launched a platform, The Work, that will host over 200 000 pieces of creative in the hope of inspiring the industry to crack briefs faster.

Tech failure
While I buy into the sentiment of using technology as an enabler, I’m acutely aware that tech is all too often viewed as a silver bullet. This leads to too much focus being placed on the wonderous workings of the amazing machine… and too little emphasis being given to the frailties of the humans who command it. There’s an often-cited Gartner report that 60% of tech projects fail (others say the failure rate is as high as 85%). This is not because the technology is useless; it’s more because the people who need to implement or use it are.

Some 20 years ago, I was involved in a small PR startup in London. Keen to find a point of differentiation (and a way of making it easy for the interns, on whom our flawed business model was largely based, to do their work), we spent a small fortune on a piece of software that linked our phone system with our file server.

The clever wonks who sold it to us claimed that, provided we’d associated a client’s number with its profile on the server, when the client in question called, a message would pop up on screen and its folder would open. The idea was that this would make information-gathering and decision-making easier.

Total bust
It was a total bust.

Clients would phone in from switchboards that had multiple outgoing numbers associated with them, meaning the software couldn’t identify them. And our turnover of interns was so high, we couldn’t keep up with the training requirement to empower them to use the system on the off chance someone called on a recognised number. I exited that business with a lighter wallet but a richer understanding of the pitfalls of being dazzled by the white light of tech.

I’m not suggesting that Publicis’ thinking will be as naive as mine was back then, but I do wonder how it’ll train 80 000 people — many of whose right brain dominance may be resistant to newfangled systems.

Agency hegemony
It is very clear that the hegemonous model of agency consolidation has its flaws and needs change, and Marcel represents a giant leap forward in this respect. Indeed, the Publicis press release wastes no time in telling us that Marcel will help create the first truly borderless, frictionless enterprise workforce.

But, with arch-rival WPP still reeling in the wake of Sir Martin Sorrell’s departure, I do wonder if Arthur Sadoun would rather focus all his current attention on standing on his competitor’s throat than have the distraction of implementing a massive tech system.

*This article was originally published on

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