What tech will tell you: The new creative brief

Intel's Yogiraj Graham discusses why technology should be viewed through a creative lens.

The most important moment in marketing used to be the "light bulb moment"— ideas came first and the tech and the tools of the day came second. As tech’s role in marketing grows exponentially, we’re seeing this creative process reverse. Using tech as a starting point is changing the way we work, the way we think. Ultimately, it’s changing what we create.

Marketers and creatives have been talking about embracing tech forever. The problem is that we haven’t changed the way we think about its role in the creative process, and most of us don’t know how short we’re falling. The cold truth is we don’t even know what proficiency looks like.

Any time we interrupt our patterns, it highlights where we are weak. Tech exposes our limitations as an industry and at the same time it gives us a new approach. Having tech drive the creative process can be messy and painful, and there are no shortcuts. Some of us are going to learn how to make tech part of our creative work, and some of us are going to get left behind. It’s on us, both marketers and creatives, to catch up.

It may seem easy for me to talk about tech because I’m at Intel. But I’m the least likely person to be bringing this message. Before I came to Intel, I had no base layer of anything technical in my education or career. I studied Romance Languages at University. I didn’t excel in the sciences or math. When conversations got technical, I simply tuned out. I benefited from technology in my everyday life, but I never thought about it beyond that. When it came to tech generally, I was neither curious nor confident. I was tuned out.

Coming to Intel gave me a very good reason to tune in. I took it as an invitation to become obsessed with our tech. I started by soaking up conversations in the cafeteria and elevators, by meeting people who worked in the technical and engineering parts of the company. I could no longer allow myself to think of tech as something only tech people needed to pay attention to.

This fall, we debuted a new project working with Chris Lee who is one of the biggest pop and fashion icons in China. Intel China had developed an AI-based technology that was capable to scanning a person’s face instantly, mapping design and objects to it, and then having facial expressions control those elements. Imagine a Snapchat filter but way more robust. We scanned thousands and thousands of faces and fed the images into our program. Using deep-learning algorithms, the program allowed the user to control the objects or mask that appears on their own face.

The brief for the Chris Lee facial mapping project? A spec sheet, a crude demo and a target partner. Nothing else. We only knew that we had to feature the tech’s capabilities, showcase Chris Lee, and show how we were innovating. We struggled with that initially. If a normal brief is a riddle, this was like a riddle in a language we didn’t speak. We had to learn the language before we could try to solve it. The thing is, you can’t figure out how to use a technology to connect with an audience before understanding the tech itself. It has to show you what’s possible. We had to dive deep into our homework.

We talked to the creators of the tech, to the engineers. Just as importantly, we talked to visual artists, motion designers and animators—anyone who could help us understand the artistic potential of the technology. Within a few focused days, the work paid off. We came up with the idea of creating a music video in which 3D designs and masks across Chris’s face would take viewers on her emotional journey through the song—no motion capture technology necessary, saving endless days and nights of post-production. By grounding ourselves in our tech, we discovered how it could free us, and how to showcase something altogether new.

As a creative group at Intel, we have more exposure and access to tech than most advertisers. But it’s something we’re still learning to dive into. We can’t expect to be briefed by experts; we have to go after our tech with voracious curiosity. But it’s that voracious curiosity that leads to breakthroughs and gives us a fair shot at actually creating something new and at telling a story people haven’t heard before.

Technology, when we view it as its own creative brief, can lead us to unexpected results. If an unlikely candidate like me can become a steward for this process, then anybody can.

Yogiraj Graham is the global director for Intel’s Creative Content Labs.