Mad Men Machines

Jun 8, 2023
Kirk Clyne & Suzanne Reeves

Mad Men Machines

A number of AI-infused marketing tools have been announced that are poised to disrupt the traditional way of doing advertising, in ways that benefit the small business owner.

Google's Performance Max, Product Studio and Meta's AI Sandbox offer to speed things up immensely — from image production and copy writing to keyword bidding.

These AI-powered technologies give smaller agencies and freelancers new agency-like superpowers, levelling the playing field in terms of who can offer what, and letting the little guys step up with less expensive — but equally effective — offerings.

Collage-style illustration of a small, bright yellow building in a sea of gray office towers
Image generated by authors in Midjourney

The old way: At the mercy of the mighty Ad Man

Let's imagine that your product or service has reached its MVP stage. You're going live, and you want to drive traffic to a landing page on your website using an ad campaign.

Digital campaigns are often the most affordable way to go, in terms of distribution. But developing a successful campaign also requires a lot of savvy content creation — like punchy headlines, compelling messages, and great imagery.

If you're like most business entrepreneurs, you don't necessarily have the skills and talent to create an ad campaign yourself — never mind knowing whether your efforts will actually be effective.

To complicate things further, you also need to know which keywords to bid on, and how to deploy across (say) the Google ad display network.

This is traditionally when businesses turn to a performance marketing agency who can develop the art and copy, and put together those combinations that — based on their experience and wisdom — are most likely to move the needle.

But relying on an agency can have some serious cost implications. Depending on their size, a whole team of people may be eating off your assignment: a performance marketing strategist, a designer, a copywriter and a project manager or an account manager.

The reality is, a good chunk of your budget is going to be diverted away from your ad spend and into the creation of the ads themselves.

Plus it takes time. Between finding the right agency, engaging in sales and discovery meetings, reviewing contracts — and the availability of the agency's copywriter, designers and performance marketing strategists — you might be looking at a few weeks before any ads go live.

But hey, what can you do? Working with a marketing agency is just the cost of doing business, right?

Or is it?

The new way: Collaborating with AI

What if you could get Big Agency creative without spending a fortune? Or even make effective ads all by yourself — or rather, in concert with a bot? That's the future that Google and Meta are ushering in with their new tools. They don't launch until July, but let's take a sneak peek at the superpowers these tools will offer to advertisers — and you.

Performance Max: Help me make my ad

Instead of going the slow, potentially expensive route of working with an agency, Google's Performance Max promises to let business owners design effective ad campaigns themselves — with the help of AI.

We’ll describe below how it works, but you could also simply watch this slick promo video from Google that gives you the broad strokes.

Here's the new workflow — all of which takes place inside of Performance Max:

  1. Enter a landing page URL from your website — the place you want to drive ad traffic to.
  2. Google's AI will automatically analyze and summarize the content of your page for you.
  3. Based on this analysis, along data from past campaigns, the AI then generates relevant assets for your ad campaign. These include recommended keywords, sample headlines, written descriptions, and even a selection of images from your website that might work well in ads.
  4. Finally, you review these AI-generated suggestions in conversation with the AI's chat bot, and make any necessary edits before launching your campaign.
Screen Shot of Performance Max showing an active chatbot conversation.
Image from Google

The process appears relatively simple and easy for non-technical or non-creative folk to use.

Screen Shot of Performance Max showing an active chatbot conversation, suggested headlines and an ad preview.
Image from Google

The built-in chatbot feature lets you collaborate, riffing on headlines or messaging together. You can ask it for suggestions on how to improve your ad campaign's performance, or which messages to focus on, and then work iteratively to fine-tune your assets while keeping an eye on the built-in "Ad Strength" indicator.

Screen shot of the Performance Max interface that includes images, a chat panel, headlines, descriptions and a preview of the ad.
Image from Google

Look closely at that screenshot above to spot all the features: Recommended images, a chatbot discussion about the focus of the messaging, auto-generated headlines and descriptions, and a performance indicator for ad strength.

Oh, and if you don't have any appropriate imagery, the AI tool can generate new images for your campaign, from scratch.

Since the bot uses Google's data from past campaigns, and analyzes your website, it's likely that the ads it produces will be more effective than average. Indeed, testers have apparently reported both higher ad strengths and a significant reduction in effort.

Screen shot of Performance Max showing a collection of generated images that look like photographs of fresh fish and house cats.
Image from Google

This tool make should make digital campaigns more affordable and accessible, widening your options beyond the bigger agencies that have often dominated the industry. Boutique design shops and individual freelancers will be able to offer similar ad campaign superpowers at a reduced rate.

And, for the most enterprising (or frugal) of you, you might even consider wading in yourself.

That said, we'd still recommend getting the eye of a professional creative on your work. After all, we're trained through experience to recognize which images best support the message and vice-versa, which elements best support your brand versus undermine it, and how to keep an eye out for things like color contrast, which is important for legibility and accessibility.

Product Studio: A Picture is Worth a Thousand... More Pictures

If you're building a business centred around physical products, you might be interested to know that Google has also just announced "Product Studio", a tool that allows you to easily alter a product photograph with a few clicks.

Using artificial intelligence, the tool can upscale your existing product photography to a higher resolution, remove the background from a product shot, and even generate new backgrounds behind your products based on a text prompt that you provide.

You can even upload a reference image if you want to crib from a competitor's style.

Screen shot of Product Studio, showing a small product image of a skin cream. The main window shows four new renditions of the bottle surrounded by peaches and plants.
Image from Google

Suddenly, it's a snap to place your product in a different environment, like a winter scene, or a high-end kitchen.

Why does this matter? Because product photography is expensive. So is having an art director on set to modify the backgrounds and props while the photographer shoots. The alternative is paying a designer to cut your product out and artificially place it in new environs using Photoshop, but that's not necessarily cheap either.

This tool lets you shoot first and ask questions later. Using only a single, halfway decent product shot, Product Studio empowers you to generate any number of seasonal or regional variants without going back to the studio, or paying a production artist.

It also means that small agencies and independent freelancers who have access to the tool can offer you a robust collection of campaign assets at a fraction of the time and cost that we'd normally associate with such work.

AI Sandbox: A Playspace for Advertising

With some uncanny timing, Meta has also released a new tool that edits product photography, and suggests headlines too.

While it's not as impressive in scope as Performance Max, Meta's newly-announced, "experimental" AI Sandbox tool offers a few AI-powered text and image features for ad creation.

The text feature, for example, automatically generates variations of copy lines. Feed it a headline, and it will offer up a few variations that might improve upon it — or provide you with opportunities for A/B testing different headlines to see which one performs better. Normally, work like this would fall to a dedicated copywriter at an agency.

The image feature in AI Sandbox can also remove backgrounds from a product shot, and even generate new backgrounds based on a text prompt your provide — much like Google's Product Studio.

Screen Shot of AI Sandbox showing the same makeup product superimposed against 4 different backgrounds, from an urban cityscape to soft gradients.
Image from Meta

Finally, Meta's too will also automatically crop your image assets to fit within specific ad dimensions. It can even extend images by generating new content to fill the space when necessary.

This is exactly the kind of time-consuming, and mindless but necessary production work that agencies will typically hand to an (inexpensive) Junior Designer — while still charging you an (expensive) blended agency rate for their efforts.

This tool promises to practically remove those hours from the docket entirely.

The future is (almost) here

Historically, crafting compelling advertisements has largely been the realm of specialized agencies, but the dawn of AI is primed to revolutionize this landscape. AI-powered technologies are ushering in a new era, democratizing the process and making the creation of impactful ad campaigns not only more accessible but also faster and cost-efficient.

As an early-stage founder, the day will come when you must harness the power of advertising to elevate your venture — and this moment might be closer than you imagine.

No matter where you stand on your entrepreneurial journey — be it on the brink of launch or amidst the critical phase of idea validation — leveraging the potential of AI-infused ads is a game-changer.

Dive into our feature article (AI-Infused Ads Give New Options to Founders) to gather actionable insights, and learn how to strategically wield advertisements for optimal impact and results.


Kirk is a creative leader, design manager, and experience designer with a 20-year career that started in the dot com boom in San Francisco. Kirk previously co-founded Art & Science, a digital design agency that landed on the Globe & Mail’s Growth 400 list, and that is ranked as the #1 digital marketing agency worldwide on He sits on the board of the Bachelor of Design and UXD Certificate programs at Humber University, regularly sites on design awards juries, and is ranked in the top 1% of design mentors on ADP.

Suzanne has over two decades of design experience, a degree in Psychology from the University of Toronto and a BFA from Emily Carr University in Vancouver. Suzanne has led design & dev teams, worked on multi-million dollar projects, and spent 10 years running a 6-figure design firm as a solopreneur. She has been integrating cutting-edge technologies like AI and no code into her workflow for many years.