Entrepreneur

S'pore Startup Pencil 'Draws' S$1.5M - Uses AI To Generate Unique Ads For Advertisers

As consumers become more tech-savvy, they also become more discerning and aware of ads that get served to them.

But the problem is, the targeted ads don’t resonate with the audience, which leads to even more invasive targeting.

This is because, as Singapore-based Pencil noted, creative teams are overwhelmed by the volume of content that modern digital advertising requires, so they are unable to focus on creating ads that reach consumers meaningfully.

Their solution? An AI-powered platform for advertisers that enables them to generate personalised advertising content at “unprecedented speed and scale” called, Studio.

Just a year old, Pencil has secured a S$1.5 million in seed funding led by Singapore/US-based VC Wavemaker Partners, SGInnovate, and talent investor Entrepreneur First.

Investor-advisors include NUS Associate Professor Min-Yen Kan and members of Xoogler Angels, a leading angel network of Google executives in Southeast Asia.

The funds raised will be used to expand engineering and customer success teams, grow proprietary datasets, and extend patent-pending technology.

A Studio That Keeps Learning

Studio first computes and massively experiments with ideas and the AI pattern detection function will spot the best ones, using machine-learning to improve campaign performance.

Studio also provides predictive feedback to users, suggesting whether generated content is likely to be effective, differentiated, and “on brand”, Pencil explained in a statement.

pencil singapore
Pencil co-founders Will Hanschell and Sumukh Avadhani / Image Credit: Pencil

We asked co-founder and CEO of Pencil, Will Hanschell, what does this mean for consumers in Singapore and he said to expect two things as AI enters the creative content space.

First, he said we can expect “more beautiful, creative communications from brands” on mediums we’ve “grown used to seeing boring” social media ads and ecommerce product descriptions, among others.

“[Two], more creative conceptual work from brands, as their creative teams are freed up from repetitive asset production and are able to focus on bigger ideas,” he shared.

Studio is targeted at major ecommerce businesses, brands, and agencies who need to create more content than their teams “possibly can”, Will explained.

So how is Studio different as a solution compared to targeted advertising strategies, such as native advertising or programmatic ads, we asked.

“Studio is an AI solution for generating content from scratch – something that until now, only humans have credibly done. Advertising techniques – like native or programmatic – are simply a means of getting content to an audience, and there are plenty of excellent providers for that, including Facebook and Google,” he explained.

“The problem advertisers have is no longer who to target or how to reach them, but what to say! Studio helps brands and agencies with creativity at scale, which is something the industry – and consumers – badly need.”

If you’re worried that one day, we’ll only be seeing ads made by AI, fret not.

Pencil stated that the process for generating AI content using Studio is “highly collaborative” with the human user in control.

Creatives “brief the platform and then review generated content”, and the platform learns through the feedback put in in the form of approvals or edits.

They found that content collaborated on by both humans and AI outperforms the work of either humans or AI alone.

Pencil has been working with high-profile firms like Sephora SEA, POND’S (Unilever), and Mindshare (WPP).

Early results have shown that it’s possible to achieve a 2x improvement in advertising performance and a 10x reduction in time and cost with Studio.

On whether Studio will be accessible to Singapore SMEs who have in-house marketing or advertising teams, Will said, “SMEs who need conceptual work or smaller amounts of content should work with any of the brilliant human creative teams in the market.”

But they will be releasing AI-powered tools to help these teams soon, and they’ll “be doing so for free”.

Pencil’ In Sustainable AI

Will, who was a former partner and management consultant at creative agency Iris Worldwide, and Sumukh Avadhani, a deep learning and computer vision specialist who was previously a Principal at Google, founded Pencil in March 2018.

They want to pioneer the concept of ‘sustainable AI’, letting any creative who uses Pencil’s tools to monetise the generative algorithms they’ve trained with their specific taste and expertise.

Sustainable AI enfranchises the people working alongside algorithms, and is a model the company believes should be applied to all automation, the statement described.

Will and Sumukh established Pencil to break the invasive targeting cycle and enable creative teams to delivery quantity without sacrificing quality.

“We chose to start a company now because the explosion in AI’s capabilities means that many hard problems, including building creative machines, are now worth realistically tackling,” Will shared with us.

On why they decided to launch in Singapore, he said, “In terms of getting from zero to one, the SGInnovate/Entrepreneur First partnership in particular reduced the risk in tackling our crazy idea massively… they enabled us to get EntrePasses, provided funding, mentorship and connections to investors.”

When it came to scaling, he believes that Singapore has “world-class ambitious young technical talent”, and that it’s “amazingly easy” to get a prospective client to meet within a day or two.

“Business flows well here.”

Pencil has been enrolled under the Info-communications Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) SG:D Spark programme for less than a month.

“The programme does quite intensive due diligence, so to have made it in, is a boost to the credibility of our vision, customer relationships, and achievements so far.”

“Our goal is to bring the scale and speed of automation to creativity, without killing it.”

“We’re working towards a world where humans and machines collaborate on ideas of all kinds, together pushing the boundaries of what creativity even means,” Will stated.

Featured Image Credit: Pencil Singapore

 

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