Feb 27, 2024 - News

Former Progressive CMO says new AI platform will disrupt marketing industry

A photo of marketer Jeff Charney in a black MKHSTRY hoodie on an illustrated purple and gold background

Photo: MKHISTRY. Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Local marketing wizard Jeff Charney forever altered the landscape of insurance commercials with his durable creations: The Aflac Duck and Progressive's "Flo" and "Dr. Rick."

Why it matters: Charney's latest project — an AI platform — could disrupt the $350 billion marketing industry in the same way Uber disrupted transportation.

How it works: Charney tells Axios that the proprietary AI software his invitation-only marketing collective MKHSTRY is unveiling Tuesday is designed to spark "lightbulb moments" and drastically reduce the time and money required to brainstorm and launch national campaigns.

  • Axios got a live demonstration of MKHSTRY.AI at Charney's suburban Cleveland home last week.
  • Based on only three short questions, the software created a list of brand names and taglines for a product under consideration, which could then be modified and tweaked as needed.

Between the lines: Charney's most successful campaigns have spanned decades, with character-driven premises and his preferred "funny but true" sensibility.

  • These are more successful than slapstick gags, celebrity cameos or fancy logos, he says.

The big picture: Charney left Progressive in 2022 at what he calls "the height of his game," only a year after being named AdAge's A-List Brand CMO of the year.

  • After setting out on his own, he enlisted Austin Wilson, a Cleveland AI whiz and Amazon hack-a-thon champion, to spearhead the development of the AI engine.

What they're saying: "There's 67,000 AI companies out there right now, many of them fly-by-night," Charney told Axios.

  • "This one thinks like a Fortune 500 CMO (chief marketing officer). It's driven by human intelligence. It doesn't replace human intelligence — it gets you into another creative gear."

What's next: Charney says the plan for expanding access is still being decided.

  • Beyond corporate marketing decision-makers, he said it's possible a consumer-facing version of the AI may be in the pipeline, which could be used for anything from personal branding to birthday party planning.
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