Using AI to Generate Promotional Brochures and Mailers

Using AI to Generate Promotional Brochures and Mailers

Design in creative industries is like an iceberg: there's 10% of highly visible work (popular billboards and award-nominated visuals) and then another 90% under water that nobody notices. During's VC-funded phase, we spent most of our time on the latter, since AI and generative techniques are particularly well suited there.

One specific example is the design of promotional brochures and mailers that you find in supermarkets and pharmacies, or those that get dropped into your mailbox. Many people rely on these brochures to get good deals on products they need, or to find coupons for cheaper alternatives.

It takes 2 to 3 professionals to produce just one multi-page brochure every week plus its format variations, and that's for a single client! There's a lot of repetitive and manual design involved, and due to the tight deadlines it means the quality suffers if anything comes up — such as last minute client changes or staff sickness/shortages.

The plan was to deploy AI in a way that could alleviate the burden and overtime with minimal disruption, allow creative teams to spend their time improving the quality rather than meeting deadlines, and give freedom to clients to make late changes. The first step was to derisk the technology with a prototype to the point where the tasks left for pre-production were mostly predictable. It went better than expected!

This pilot was succesful in derisking the techology side, how we could apply our systems to produce a stream of random cells each with sensible layouts. B2E development can be slow at first, but in this case moved faster than expected and the agency was keen to move forward with closer integration.

We learned multiple lessons from working on this prototype:

When seen in the context of industry-wide transformation of work due to automation (read this previous article), you can understand why applying such technology can easily cause tremendous disruption when it's not done carefully.

Unfortunately, our investors didn't show any long-term interest in this; our syndicate had broken early on in the life of the company. We failed to raise external money too, because good investors can tell when you have a broken syndicate. Ultimately, key people were asked to resign and once the investors had majority ownership, most of the team was fired and the company pivoted into automated advertising instead.

What I regret the most is how this decision was made. I'm not sure the investors were fully aware of the state nor details of the project when they made their decision. I knew this was a key point that required getting everyone together in the same room, but I failed to make it happen... Dealing with VC firms as stakeholders is different, but maybe I could have fixed our syndicate? After I left, the pivot didn't work out either, but that's a story for another time!