Shreyas Kulkarni

Oreo answers life’s questions with AI wit in Farhan Akhtar’s voice

Mondelez chief marketer Nitin Saini, Leo Burnett and Prodigious spill the beans on the cookie brand's new work.

Asking generative AI programs such as ChatGPT about the future of humanity or its impact on human employment is passé.

The real deal, going by Oreo’s new campaign, is to extract the best of witty clap backs in the likeness of actor Farhan Akhtar’s voice for some of life’s more serious questions.

How do I tell my parents I want to go on a Goa trip? Scan the QR code from an Oreo pack that takes you to a microsite, type in the question, and see the actor spit out the much-needed gyaan.

We (afaqs!) asked a few questions on the microsite. And despite it being an enjoyable experience, the act of feeding in your name, smartphone number, and email id, and having to agree to receive messages related to the campaign via email every single time was tedious.

And while the actor’s presence and the witty answers being in English leads to an assumption of Oreo being a metro brand, it is not.

“I would not say Oreo is restricted to the metros. It is doing very well, you know, in tier two and our penetration is going even in rural India,” says Nitin Saini, VP marketing, Nitin Saini.

The campaign is a subtle shift of the Oreo brand from the light-hearted yet responsible parenting narrative it had adopted over the last few years.

Cricketer MS Dhoni and his daughter Ziva, and a few other ads spoke of giving up work/phone time and focusing more on the family.

Saini does not think there is any such shift. “The brand is being very consistent with its purpose, which is around playfulness,” he says, and that it could be in any context.

Oreo had launched the 'Stay Playful' positioning in 2019 to encourage building emotional connections between children and their parents.

The cookie brand wanted its creative agency Leo Burnett to further strengthen the brand’s positioning around playfulness.

“We, at a fundamental human insight level, realised there are a lot of situations where we are not able to express ourselves the way we want to… We knew that a playful answer is always a way out of it…” explains Mayuresh Dubhashi as the genesis of the campaign idea.

He is Leo Burnett’s group executive creative director.

He describes the use of AI to clone Akhtar’s voice and ChatGPT offering the answers as a “very phenomenally modern, really high tech means to that end” which is “keeping things playful.”

Prodigious, a Publicis-owned global production platform, produced and worked on the technology behind the ads.

“When I first heard of this idea, I thought it’s not possible, and another thought was to contact Rephrase.AI (agency that makes AI-based videos) to get this done,” admits Varun Shah, ‪managing partner and head, Prodigious India.

Feeding in data before getting a response
Feeding in data before getting a response

Shah and his team zeroed down on ‘Resemble’, a San Jose-based voice cloning platform for the guarantees it offered.

One, it would give you over 70% likeliness of Akhthar's voice, and the second was that it would offer a response in less than 30 seconds. All one needed to do was prompt ChatGPT.

Cloning Akthar’s voice took a few hours. “He was reading pages and pages of gibberish, reciting months of the year and numbers from one to 100. It was three hours of him talking in different tones, personalities, and emotions. We needed to record his voice as raw data,” reveals Dubhashi.

For all this ingenuity, there is the question of brand safety. Anybody could try and prompt the generative AI to spit out innuendo and turn it into a blazing controversy.

“There would always be some element of risk as you do a digital-led kind of activation, but you are very mindful that you must minimise the risk, and take all precautions necessary,” remarks Saini.

It took the creative folks 20 days to feed and train ChatGPT on the kind of responses it needed to offer, and “the API in the back” ensured nothing slipped through the cracks, says Shah.

The main ad film and the six short films accompanying it have a curious timing. The last major campaign from the Mondelez-owned cookie brand starred Dhoni and came before the 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. There is no big event or movie release right now.

"If there is an insight that does not tie to a particular occasion but can be relevant across the year. Then you can activate it any time of the year,” responds Saini.

When asked about an Economic Times piece from March 2023 about fresh investment into the company until 2026 not including brand and advertising spend, Saini says, “We are in a good place as far as investing into brands and brand building is concerned.”

And the brand, as Dubhashi, says wanted its consumers to "go ahead, and have fun."

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