“It was really clear to us that the solution to the problem, as it has been in industry after industry, was technology,” said Barrett, the chief strategy officer. “We needed to take a radically new approach of the application of technology to the problem of creativity, so we are building machines that humans can use in order to make better advertising faster. If you think of advertising like building a house, you can build a house with hand tools or you can build it with power tools. What we're trying to do is build the power tools. We're still building a house, we're just doing it in a much faster, much more efficient way.”
While many agencies tout their artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities, the founders of Supernatural believe their offering is different because it serves as the agency’s nucleus.
“So many agencies say they have some kind of version of this, but what they’re talking about is an AI algorithm that tests ads after they are already out, or an AI copywriting thing,” Caiozzo said. “The entire agency, every single person, collaborates with the platform we’re building — before the ads are made, not after. It helps make smarter decisions prior to the ad being created, during its creation and also while it’s running in order to optimize. The short of it is, we can get to strategies very, very fast — at the fraction of the time as another agency.”
For example, Supernatural was involved in a strategy pitch for its client Vita Coco's new brand, Pwr Lift protein water.
“The initial hypothesis going in was you’re going to be dealing with meatheads,” Barrett said.
But after the team turned to what it informally calls “the machine” for insight, “it quickly returned this weird world of weightlifters that was crossing with anime, strange memes and this culture of nerdiness,” Caiozzo said. “So we made our entirety strategy around those connections that I feel like in a million years, you would never have convinced the client on without the data. It revealed this huge white space in talking to weightlifters in a different way.”
The agency arrived at the strategy in two days — with two weeks left in the pitch.
Outside of Vita Coco, the agency’s current client list includes YouTube, Sir Kensington's and Kayak. Over the summer, Supernatural created for Kayak work centered on people's desires to travel once again, post-pandemic, and it ultimately resonated with the brand's target audience.
"Supernatural’s brand creative met the moment and was a big contributor to the business over the summer,” Matt Clarke, VP of North America marketing at Kayak, said in a statement.
The platform the Supernatural founders created is built on 50 years of information on what makes advertising effective, informed by data tied to clients’ specific challenges and goals — a “data and technology stack that I would put up against the data and technology stack of any holding company or any consulting firm,” Barrett said.
But with all that data muscle, where do the people fit in?
Returning to the house-building metaphor, “The thing that the tools don’t do is assemble the story, and the way humans absorb information is in a story,” Barrett explained. “The tools can tell you what and in a lot of cases they can tell you why, but what they can’t do is explain, and they can’t set objectives. That is the fundamental limitation of all A.I. and machine learning.”