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Publicis reaps rewards of it’s pioneering AI project and makes fun of doubters

Carla Serrano: ‘‘back then, ai was laughed at’’

SIX YEARS ago, agency group Publicis was greeted with skepticism and disbelief when it used Cannes Lions 2017 to launch Marcel, an AI tool designed to support its employees in the work.

This year, with AI set to be a major talking point, it has launched a light-hearted advertising campaign in Cannes that pokes fun at the creative industry for its negative response to Publicis’ pioneering platform. In keeping with the campaign’s irreverent theme, an AI demo was used to playfully recreate those initial reactions to Marcel. On a more serious note, the firm says it is a reminder to the industry just how far AI has progressed in a short time.

Speaking to the Cannes Lions Daily on the eve of the 2023 event, Publicis Groupe chief strategy officer Carla Serrano said AI in general and Marcel in particular have become a competitive advantage for the company, connecting its global talent with content, growth and opportunity. “Back then, AI was laughed at. But fast forward, and you see that every company at Cannes is announcing its latest AI partnership. At Publicis, AI has long sat at the centre of our model: across Sapient for enhanced customer experience; at Epsilon to enrich and activate in real-time our first-party data; in media and critically in creativity, where it enhances dynamic creativity while optimising, accelerating and simplifying production processes.”

“Most recently, Marcel launched PublicisGPT, which puts the power of generative AI in the hands of the firm’s global talent”


As the industry has gradually awoken to AI’s potential, Publicis has kept on evolving Marcel, said Serrano. Today Marcel’s AI builds learning and development plans for employees, fuelled by Marcel intelligence — a collection of 100 million data points that provide relevant, personalised and targeted offerings. During COVID-19, Marcel helped save over 2,500 jobs through its ‘Gigs’ function, while connecting the workforce around key moments such as Viva La Difference, the Cannes Do Awards and Pausing for Action. Most recently, Marcel launched PublicisGPT, which puts the power of generative AI in the hands of the firm’s global talent.

marco venturelli: ‘‘companies that have used ai will win lions’’

Emmanual André, Publicis’ New York-based chief talent officer, said Marcel’s ability to connect the company’s 94,000 employees has created “a completely transformative experience of what the company can do you know. It has enabled our employees to meet folks beyond the floor of their office — sharing their profiles, ambitions, tastes and connections. It also gave rise to initiatives like Work Your World — which allows our employees to work from anywhere in the group for six weeks. That has provided a real creative release.” In the process, the capabilities of Marcel have proved a big factor in luring talent to the firm.

While Marcel was initially conceived as an internal tool, leading execs within the group insist that AI’s relevance to the marketing and communication sector goes much further now. Publicis Group France chief creative officer Marco Venturelli admitted he was unsure about the benefits when Marcel was launched: “But AI has come a long way and I’m 100% sure there’s going to be a lot of discussion about AI this week — not just in the conference. I think a lot of companies that have used AI in campaigns will win Lions.”

For Venturelli, a critical point to note is the way AI has shifted from being “a concept to a phenomenal, practical tool. It allows us to complete some tasks so quickly that you can spend more time thinking about the right idea. And when you consider fast-growing areas like personalised content, the volume our clients need these days couldn’t be done without AI.”

Serrano added that Publicis’s bold entry into AI has given the company a competitive edge over rivals. “We recently won a pretty sizeable piece of business and the client has asked us to integrate Marcel into their business. So I think definitely our early investment helped us.”


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