Redefining creativity in the AI age: Insights from Carlos Cantu, Freepik’s CMO | EU-Startups

In times when AI’s buzz is inescapable, its profound impact on marketing strategies and content creation can’t be overstated. But how can it be leveraged to enhance efficiency without compromising creativity? Is it possible to work smarter, not just harder, in this AI-driven landscape? To uncover answers to these pressing inquiries, we turn to Carlos Cantu, who can offer us some unique perspectives about what lies ahead.

Carlos’s journey is nothing short of remarkable, spanning from crafting advertising campaigns for globally recognised brands to innovating marketing strategies at Twitter and now leading Freepik’s marketing initiatives. His insights offer a valuable glimpse into the dynamic interplay between technology and creativity.

Join us as we explore his extensive experiences, examine the shifting landscape of Spain’s tech ecosystem, and understand how AI is revolutionising creativity from the perspective of a leader who is driving this change firsthand.

Hola Carlos, happy to have you here! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I began my career in traditional advertising, and as the industry evolved, I became an integrated marketer, using both traditional and digital strategies for my projects. I worked my way up to Creative Director in the advertising industry, where I helped create advertising campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola, Samsung, Land Rover, and Santander Bank. 

Before joining Freepik, I spent eight years at Twitter, firstly as Head of Brand Strategy for Spanish LATAM before becoming Director of Marketing for EMEA. 

In 2022, I started my role as Chief Marketing Officer at Freepik, where I am leading the marketing and communications team. My goal is to increase brand awareness, establish our positioning to help people create great designs faster, and, ultimately, grow the business. 

Before we dive into your current role, I’d love to hear about your time at Twitter. What’s the best and worst of that experience?

My experience at Twitter completely changed my perspective and my professional profile. I shifted from an advertising creative to a marketer, entered the tech industry, and learned how to establish a global vision. But also, Twitter allowed me to understand the importance of real-time marketing and the power of having fluid two-way communication with your audience. The worst thing? That I didn’t do the move earlier in my career. 

What motivated you to transition from there to Freepik? What’s your feeling about the tech ecosystem in Malaga and in Spain as a whole?

There were different factors. Initially, it was the idea of helping to build a brand that is centred on creativity and design; very inspiring. Then, when I met the founders, I got excited about the project and working with such a talented team. Finally, I really wanted to be part of a company that was determined to be a trailblazer in the generative AI industry.

Regarding the tech ecosystem in Malaga, I think it is very impressive how fast it’s moving forward. Before moving to Spain, I spent five years in Dublin, which has become the EMEA tech epicentre, and Malaga feels to me very similar to how Dublin was a few years ago.

Moving to your experience with Freepik, how did it go in this first year? Can you recall any specific project or initiative that stood out to you?

I’ve had a fantastic time during my first year at Freepik, and I’ve been involved in a lot of exciting initiatives. One that will always stand out to me is my first-ever project – crafting a whole new brand identity for Freepik and its subsidiaries.

A rebranding is a huge undertaking for any company, so it was the perfect first project for a CMO. It stretched me and my team to be as creative as possible. We wanted to reflect Freepik’s commitment to creativity for all as well as position ourselves as a creative enabler for designers as the growth of AI transforms the industry. We launched the new brand in September 2023, and it’s been a great success. I am extremely proud of my team. 

With AI becoming increasingly integral in creative industries, can you elaborate on Freepik’s vision and strategic approach towards integrating AI in design and content creation? How is Freepik gearing up for future technological and AI developments over the next decade?

AI is the present and the future, so we’ve taken a lot of time to consider how AI can help us offer our users better solutions for creating great designs even faster. We believe AI is a force for good and that it can be a creative enabler. That’s why our tools are powered by these recent technological advancements. 

As an example, we recently launched Freepik Pikaso, a real-time AI art generator that enables users to turn their ideas into visuals. Freepik Pikaso helps to eliminate the time-consuming process of sketching intricate designs by using new groundbreaking LCM AI technology. In the first week of our beta launch, over 10 million real-time AI-generated images were created, proving how generative AI has revolutionised creativity. 

Additionally, Slidesgo, Freepik’s library of free presentation templates, now has an AI Presentation Maker, making it quicker and more intuitive for our users to generate eye-catching presentations. 

These are just two of our products that we have enhanced with generative AI, and we have plans to continue this across all of Freepik. We want marketers, advertisers, creatives, and anyone for that matter, to work smarter, not harder, and this can be achieved through generative AI tools.

Looking at the current landscape, what emerging AI and content creation trends excite you the most?

Generative design will continue to soar this year. As we’ve already seen with Freepik Pikaso, generative AI is transforming the creative industry and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It’s helping creatives to break free from the confines of traditional art and propel their creativity forward. On the other hand, I am sure that we will see an increase in the search for authentic images and even handcrafted ones.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give marketers and creators eager to embrace AI? How can they use artificial intelligence to stay competitive in the digital domain?

AI removes technical barriers for creators. At the end of the day, it’s an enabler that allows anyone with a good idea to express it. Embrace AI, but don’t expect it to do the job for you. Before using generative AI, marketers and creators must have a well-defined creative concept. Generative AI isn’t a magic tool; it requires a clear vision from the user to make sure the final product truly aligns with your brand. Similarly, to ensure high-quality content is produced, users should prioritise testing generative AI tools before using them for projects and campaigns. 

Generative AI is a game-changer and those that don’t embrace it will begin to fall behind their competitors. However, those who stay ahead will understand that these tools aren’t created to replace human intervention or oversight. Instead, they work best when supplemented with human creativity and flair to inject personality. 

Along with any articles, books, or podcasts you’d recommend, could you share any personal influences or thought leaders in the field who have shaped your understanding of AI applied to marketing and content creation?

For AI enthusiasts, I’d recommend Archillect, an AI-based art curator that identifies interesting and stimulating visual content on the internet. I enjoy browsing the website as it can help with inspiration and often leads me to find new content that I otherwise might not have. Also, I know I’m biased, but I suggest following Freepik as we have a team of AI experts and design passionates sharing great content daily.

Editor’s Note: Joaquín Cuenca Abela, Co-founder and CEO of Freepik, will be joining our upcoming EU-Startups Summit on May 9-10 in Malta. Joaquín will deliver an engaging talk titled “How the Impact of AI is Transforming (Y)our Industry and What You Can Do About It.” Don’t miss out on this opportunity!

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