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    How Heinz’s agency used machine learning to prove its ketchup is the dominant condiment

    Heinz has tapped into the cultural excitement around text-to-image machine learning programs to prove the market dominance of its tomato sauce. The Drum ketched up with the creatives behind the 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired campaign.

    The latest iteration of the ‘Draw Ketchup’ campaign gave a machine, rather than the general public, the task of drawing ketchup. Lo and behold, more often than not it sketched *almost* correct iterations of Heinz’s product – albeit with the Bizzaro World twist we’ve become used to from not-quite-there machine learning programs.

    The campaign from Canadian creative agency Rethink set out to strengthen consumer affinity. “Heinz is an icon,” explains Mike Dubrick, executive creative director, Rethink. “But we don’t want it to be a heritage brand.”

    Last year, Kraft-owned Heinz conducted a social experiment asking people across five continents to draw the red condiment. One year later, and building on the campaign’s success, Rethink took it one step further. 

    Dubrick – not to be confused with director Stanley Kubrick, to whom this campaign nods – says: “So, like many of our briefs, the task was to demonstrate Heinz’s iconic role in today’s pop culture. Pitching the idea to the brand was next. After the brief, we rarely wait until the formal presentation when we share something we think is great.”

    This idea was first pitched to the client informally by text before a formal presentation with a “bit more meat on the bone” was conducted, but Dubrick, excited by the idea, points out: “When you’ve got something powerful, why wait?”

    After getting the go-ahead from Heinz, the next step of the creative process was to find the right tech for the job. The team landed on DALL·E 2 – a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a text description. There’s been a buzz around such tools on social media these last few months.

     
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    “Once we had that, we were able to experiment and understand the capabilities,” adds Dubrick. “We were getting to grips with machine learning and looking for ways to demonstrate that Heinz is ketchup. The AI gave us a completely unbiased opinion on the subject.”

    The team hilariously began putting the machine to test, asking it to draw a ‘cow bus’ and ‘fry castle,’ before finally entrusting the bot to draw ‘ketchup’ – resulting in pictures of what appears to be a Heinz bottle, albeit in different artistic styles.

    As always though, relying on tech can sometimes go awry. We asked if there was a plan B? “No. It either worked or it didn’t,” adds Dubrick.

    “We love solving problems throughout the creative process, but we also think you have to be willing to kill an idea when it’s simply not going to work. Thankfully, this one did.” Of course, there were a few funny and odd creations along the way. “The platform is experimental, and we wanted to embrace that.”

    A campaign like this perhaps dispels the notion that a focus on tech can erode focus on the human aspect of creativity. “I think it enhances the human element. It allows the wildest, most imaginative creative thoughts that pop into people’s heads to be transformed into vivid illustrations,” he adds. 

    “And it does it in seconds. Like any creative tool, it’s an opportunity for creative humans to do things they’ve never done before.”

    Interested in creative campaigns? Check out our Ad of the Day section and sign up for our Ads of the Week newsletter so you don’t miss a story.

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