Marcel source: Publicis

Well you took a long journey from Milan to Minsk, Marcel, Marcel. This week we take a look at Marcel, the Publicis AI powered tool, take an objective view about it, and throw Seinfeld quotes in for no apparent reason.

The sea was angry that day, my friends.

Eh, actually, I don’t know what the sea was like when Marcel was unveiled in Paris, but anyways, Marcel was introduced about two months ago during the VivaTech conference in Paris (Really need a Cloudy travel budget to cover these events…). Just as a reminder, Marcel was originally announced in 2017 as some sort of AI powered marketing collaboration tool which mixed elements of voice recognition and search. It was going to be Publicis’s way of becoming a “Tech” company as building an AI collaboration “platform” they were going to figure this whole AI thing out.

When you’re shopping on Madison Avenue, you don’t want to skimp on the swank

In true ad agency format, Marcel was unveiled and live demoed to a massive crowd. The CEO of Microsoft made an appearance. There were enormous screens and lights. Talk of disruption and changing the industry. I felt like a peon watching the event on my IKEA couch, which my wife bought before we knew each other, so technically only through the union of marriage is it “my couch.” Things were looking bleak.

But the lack of fanfare and high society helped me focus on what Marcel actually is. Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis, clearly defines Marcel as an “AI enabled platform that connects 80,000 individuals.” To prove this point, different aspects of Marcel were then live demoed to show what it is capable of doing.

In the first case study, the presenter asks Marcel “Looking for an expert in retail with experience in product launches.” Then Marcel returns a list of people matching this experience and the presenter then narrows the original request down to people who have worked on Samsung. From there, the presenter clicks on a profile, which contains some background info on the person and then Marcel is even able to then schedule a meeting with that person!!! It was practically like something out the of Jetsons.


Here is a screenshot

Why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries? I don’t know.

Marcel’s ability to search through the Publicis network relies heavily on user generated content. Each person at Publicis can update their profile and include relevant clients and projects they have worked on and specialties they have. The interesting thing is that Publicis has everything on an “opt in” basis and while I am not exactly sure what you can opt in and out of, Publicis claims that you can use Marcel as little or often as you like.

Next, Marcel tries to retrieve some case studies. The live presenter tries to ask Marcel to find him case studies where there is “data and creativity”, but after several attempts, Marcel still cannot understand what he is saying, so the presenter just types it in. This feature is just sort of a search engine that searches through Publicis uploaded work. The presenters try and downplay the fact that Marcel is just a search engine because it tailors your search to you, kind of like, you know, how a search engine works.

Case number three and four highlight Marcel’s recommender system. Marcel can recommend advertising content, news articles and interesting case studies. Imagine Spotify’s discover weekly, but for advertising content. There is also a feature which recommends who should work on what projects. Let’s say you want to assemble the perfect team for a project, you can turn to Marcel to help you recommend a team.

To Sum Marcel Up

Essentially, Marcel is a voice powered collaboration tool, a content search engine/digital asset management tool and a marketing content recommender system.

Well, you know what they say, you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.

Now that the fancy presentation, is over, what does Publicis do next? Publicis is currently alpha testing Marcel with 100 people and then plans to beta test it to 1000 people by the end of the summer. The full Marcel will be rolled out over the next 18 months to the entire network.

But many questions emerge about the next steps of Marcel. Will anyone use Marcel? Will it actually be effective? After most likely spending millions of dollars, does Publicis plan to license this? How will they measure ROI?

Trying to measure Marcel’s success is quite complicated. Publicis could measure the output of teams that were suggested by Marcel vs teams that were assembled organically, but measuring how those teams did is open to interpretation. Maybe Publicis does a survey and asks its employees how much time they think they have saved using Marcel, but that’s just a shot in the dark. Or maybe some client teams will be assigned to use Marcel and others won’t, and then you could measure the client satisfaction at the end of the year?

Did Publicis actually build this?

The big takeaway is how much Marcel relies on Microsoft and if we dissect each piece of Marcel, it becomes obvious most of the technology is Microsoft enabled. During the live demo, the presenters make numerous mentions of OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage product and “Microsoft Teams”, which means Marcel most likely runs on the Microsoft cloud.

Many of the “AI” features in Marcel most likely rely on Microsoft as well. The voice recognition aspect most certainly relies on Microsoft as building a voice recognition algorithm from scratch would be extremely labor intensive. Microsoft’s machine learning APIs can understand many languages and that is crucial when Publicis roles this out across many markets.

The search feature is a little more difficult to pinpoint, but considering Microsoft already has a Speech to Bing API, it would make sense Publicis either collaborated with Microsoft on tweaking it or is using an off the shelf solution. Maybe Publicis built a custom search algorithm for its content, but considering the complexity of queries that users are encouraged to serve Marcel and how that algorithm interacts with the speech API, Publics probably used Microsoft.

Finally, anyone can build a recommender system, so Publicis gets no credit for that.

These pretzels are making me thirsty

Eager to try Marcel after this write up? You shouldn’t be. Yes, Publicis (with a lot help from Microsoft) built a voice enabled collaboration tool, but will it turn out to be a super AI that transforms the industry. Certainly, not.


After the presentation, Arthur came back out for a Q/A session, but before that, he gets a really, really, long applause. The kind of applause people who win lifetime achievement awards for being an astronaut or curing cancer get. You would have thought Publicis figured out general intelligence.

Even worse, was the actual QA session. I feel bad for the person who asked if of Publicis’s “AI” took into account “culture” when trying to pair people together. No, no it does not. Then there was a question about if Marcel would replace jobs and it’s like, CMON, Marcel is a program that benefits from more people being in the system. If anything, Marcel does the opposite. Maybe it was the combination of the croissants, big presentation screen and extremely dark room that made people a little loopy.

Maybe they need more 8 year old IKEA couches at VivaTech 2019 to temper enthusiasm…

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