MFA EX - The battle between AI and EQ for media planners

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 25 September 2023
L to R: Thad King, Alison Costello, Laura Nice and Penny Shell.

Is artificial intelligence (AI) or emotional intelligence (EQ) the best tool to use for media planning?

In a session titled AI vs EQ: the grudge battle between algorithms and media planners, Alison Costello, chief transformation officer at OMD (on the side of AI) and Penny Shell, chief product officer at OMD (on the side of EQ) attempted to convince the audience at MFA EX of the best tool for media planning.

The case for AI

Costello said the love of the machine has been growing steadily. 

“Maybe unbeknownst to you, but I guarantee you somewhere in the hearts of each and every one of you there is love for the machine,” she said.

“What we are experiencing now is definitely that some exponential growth of that love because of the superior capability that it's bringing to our lives.”

Costello said the first benefit AI presents to media planners is speed, a ubiquitous but frustrating problem that afflicts everyone. AI is a resource that can help put time back in people’s day, she said.

“The chance of us getting anything done dramatically decreases as the number of choices we have to make each and every day increases,” Costello told the crowd.

“It's because it just slows us down, so AI is going to help us make decisions and make them fast. The average response time for generative AI platforms is five seconds. Imagine that time back. 

“The average person makes 35,000 decisions every single day and I just don't think as humans, we were cut out for that level of constant decision making. Ultimately, it just stops us from getting anything meaningful done.”

Costello said for years now, we've been inundated with brands to get their heads around, but despite the reverenceof a particular brand by individuals, the reality is we're just not caring as much as we should. 

“So what do we do? We consult the beautiful machine,” she said. 

“‘You tell me - please take everything you know of what people have said about certain products or services, where they might be based or located, how they performed and you just tell me what's best for my life’. We know it's going to help us make life easier, it's going to shortcut that choice for us.”

For her final point, Costello touched on proven performance – “a bit of a no brainer”. 

“For years now, we have been leveraging AI to model historical data set to predict future outcomes, because we know that it's going to generate that 10 to 20% increase in return on investment,” she said.

“This is nothing new, but we do because it gives us a level of comfort that we can deliver for our clients and for ourbusinesses.”

For a final convincer to the audience, Costello shared the response from ChatGPT when she consulted the chatbot for answers as to why is AI the better way to plan media than emotional intelligence:

‘AI offers data driven precision in media planning. In efficiency and accuracy, AI outperforms human emotional intelligence in media planning. Harnessing AI for optimised media strategies and targeted audience reach, AI’s analytical power revolutionises media planning beyond human capabilities, enhancing media campaigns with AI driven insights and decision making’.

The case for EQ

Shell began her presentation by dispelling a myth – she said that past performance is not the best indicator of future performance, despite what market mix modelling may have led the audience to think. 

She presented a chart showing the most valuable brands the year 2000, with another chart showing in 2022, seven out of these 10 brands didn't even rank and some of them don't even exist anymore.

“Creation and innovation and invention and reinvention are the greatest catalysts for brand demand and brand building; not simply doing what has been done before as the AI algorithms are trained to do,” Shell said.

“The second point in the case for EQ is that predictions can be wrong. The QR code was actually launched in 1994 and for 25 years, we saw many an inspired creative be laughed out of the room because they were trying to put it on packaging or trying to put it on advertising. 

“‘That'll never work’, we said; ‘no one's ever going to use their phone to scan that thing’ we said. Little did we know that 16 years later, we've been relying on that QR code and the data would have told us it was a failure, but predictions can be wrong.”

Shell said that if the organisers of MFA EX had listened to last year's predictions, this year’s event would have been held in the metaverse. 

“Data can’t predict what we will do, AI can’t predict what we’ll do and it also can’t predict what will go viral,” Shell told the MFA audience. 

“Let me take for example the esteemed career of Rick Astley. This career should have lived and died in 1987 and it kind of did, but human behaviour is messy, it's unpredictable, we like weird and surprising stuff. 

“What we don't predict is actually the best and most fun moments in culture. Rick Astley’s career may have lived and died in 1987, but little did we know that 30 years later, his song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ regained popularity through ‘rickrolling’ and in 2021, the video actually hit the 1 billion view mark on YouTube.”

To support her points about EQ, Shell played a pre-recorded message from Brent Smart, CMO of Telstra:

“With artificial intelligence, I think the clue’s in the name - creativity isn't just about intelligence. It's about intuition, taste, bravery. Creativity is not a series of logical steps. It requires a lateral leap. 

“I think as marketers, we’re often caught up with the ‘or’ - brand or performance, digital or traditional, AI or humans. But this is really about ‘and’; it's about how AI is a tool when put in the hands about a creative human who can prompt it well, who can curate it, who can filter, who can bring their level of taste and intuition to the process.

“I'm really excited about how I can take away some of the more literal or repetitive parts of the creative process to free up time so we can actually be more creative. I think the answer is humans with real emotional intelligence and intuition, using AI as a tool.”

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus