Yamamoto is embracing AI to the fullest

Combined with human oversight and artistry, the agency utilizes AI for innovative solutions for their clients

da India Fizer , AdForum

Advertising/Full Service/Integrata
Minneapolis, Stati Uniti
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Jon Trettel
Chief Digital Officer Yamamoto

Honoring their brand promise of moving mountains for clients, Yamamoto embraces forward-thinking technology. Yamamoto's Chief Digital Officer, Jon Trettel, speaks on using AI responsibly and for efficiency in the creative process. 


Does your agency encourage or deter the use of AI in your work? If applicable, how does your team integrate these tools into the creative process?

At Yamamoto, we’re embracing AI to the fullest. As the former leader of digital experience for a Fortune 4 healthcare company, I love any new technology that can increase productivity, creativity, velocity, and impact. Our creative technologist, Shawn Flanagan, also has over a decade of industry experience with emerging technologies such as AI, AR, Web 3.0, and so forth. He’s bringing forward-thinking technology into every new business pitch while also finding innovative solutions for existing clients. Our brand promise is this: We move mountains for our clients. The question at Yamamoto is not whether to use AI, but what’s the best way, while also being brand safe and honoring the creative work done by real-life humans like you and me.

So how are we embracing AI? That question has multiple answers. One way we’re using AI at Yamamoto is for non-commercial work. Our executive creative director, Shawn Pals, recently used MidJourney to pitch a client a spot for the Big Game that featured a famous actor dressed in all black and riding a black stallion on a beach at sunset. The image was uncannily accurate and visually stunning. We’d never make it public, but it brought the concept to life in a way a traditional mockup never could.

Yamamoto’s parent company, Stagwell, and its Marketing Cloud Group is building and testing custom AI tools for all affiliated agencies to use at enterprise. Within Stagwell, Yamamoto is in the Doner Partners Network (DPN) micro-network, which won a 2023 A-List Standout Award from Ad Age for excellence in driving marketing results through collaboration. I’m a member of DPN’s Emerging Technology working group, which includes James Adamé, executive vice president of innovation and design at Doner and Shawn Flanagan. Our goal across agencies is to demystify AI and other emerging technologies. We’re helping clients separate what’s a distraction from what will make a difference.


How does the accessibility of these tools affect the way AI is used?

I love how accessible these tools are, but we have to be careful not to overestimate their impact. Think about what smartphone cameras did to photography. Suddenly every image is beautiful, clear, and made more intriguing by some cool filter. But consumer fatigue set in pretty quickly. Today it’s easy to take a good photograph, but if you want a great photograph, you need human artistry.

AI will follow the same pattern. We’ll have the standard version that comes from widespread use — think about a blog template in WordPress — and then we’ll have the professional version. At Yamamoto, we’re guiding our clients to use AI to differentiate themselves. Which means bringing all our knowledge, taste, and expertise in using AI to help them stand out. We’re also going to make sure AI is used in the right way, which is essential not only for brands but also for us as people.


As AI advances, how is the role of the creative redefined? In what ways do you see the landscape of creation changing/shifting in response to AI?

I don’t know if AI is capable of redefining the role of the creative. What creatives do is so essentially human. AI can’t replace emotion, subjective experience, memory, point of view. But AI can absolutely amplify what we’re doing. My DPN Emerging Technologies colleague James Adamé, for example, is a 3D designer. He’s using generative AI to speed up the spatial design process, which is as niche as it sounds. But there are opportunities for more general use. Here at Yamamoto, we’re creating a Prompt School for our creatives to teach them how to use AI to execute routine work faster. This will allow them to go deeper for clients on more challenging projects.


If AI furthers its capability to create and think, what is a responsible way to use these new technologies?

We have to respect intellectual property and copyright. We have to watch out for bias and discrimination. Bottom line: AI needs human oversight and control.

I think we also deserve transparency and disclosure. This Q & A, for example, was 100% made by real people. Everyone referenced contributed to copy, with editing by Dennis Cass, Yamamoto’s brand storyteller, and additional insights by director of digital strategy, Kate Thomas. AI is an exciting tool, but it’s not going to show up for a project the way smart, passionate people show up. Ultimately that’s what our clients — and their customers — want and deserve.