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Advertising and algorithms – the obvious gains and hidden losses of using software with intelligent agent capabilities in the creative process of art directors and copywriters

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posted on 22.08.2019, 01:10 authored by Barker, Richie
Situated at the intersection of information technology, advertising and creativity theory, this thesis presents a detailed picture of the influence of autonomous software applications on the creative process of advertising art directors and copywriters. These applications, which are known in the field of information technology as ‘intelligent agents,’ commonly possess the ability to learn from the user and autonomously pursue their own goals. The search engine Google, which employs intelligent agency to pre-empt and personalise search results based on the collective and individual behaviour of users, is the investigation’s focal point due to its widespread use in the production of creative advertising. To understand how intelligent agents are deployed and received in industry practice, the thesis is organised around a qualitative study comprised of semi-structured interviews with eighteen art directors and copywriters in three Australian capital cities. The results from this study are analysed in terms of both theories of creative practice (stage-based and systems models) and the network society. The thesis finds that Google search provides participants with the ability to conveniently and quickly access converged media content that can evoke ideas for advertisements either immediately or at some stage in the future. However, an algorithmic bias towards the presentation of the most popular and familiar search results, and thus online content, emerges as a less obvious consequence of using a search engine with intelligent agent capabilities. The algorithms responsible for Google’s intelligent agency result in two tendencies. The first is the flattening of ideation possibilities evoked by Google’s pre-emption of users’ search intentions and personalisation of their search results. And secondly, the deployment of increasingly autonomous software applications that valorise efficiency, speed and new forms of flexibility are subtly shaping the institutional context in which advertising is produced. These outcomes are unfolding with limited practitioner awareness of the affordances and influences of software with intelligent agency on the creative process.


Principal supervisor

Paul Atkinson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Media, Film and Journalism


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts