Skip to main content

Experience new growth possibilities with Microsoft Advertising today >

Blog post

You're creative, not AI: your guide to advertising image prompt mixology

June 10, 2024
Three people laughing and looking at a cell phone.

Let’s be honest, everyone enjoys a well-crafted beverage that inspires our palate while satisfying our thirst. Just like a professional mixologist, advertisers can be their own mixologists to get the most out of AI by drawing upon different areas of knowledge that might not seem like obvious ingredients, yet they go together brilliantly.

Let’s explore creating AI-generated images for use in your marketing and advertising to accelerate your creative process and boost ad performance by applying the right mix of insights and methods of engaging with generative AI. Outlining a few use cases, we’ll explore some key ideas to create AI-generated advertising images that have performance insights mixed right in.

The first thing you must know is there is an art and science to getting the most out of generative AI and the keystone skill is still prompt engineering—especially when creating imagery. If you haven’t also read the Inclusive Prompt Engineering: how to boost ad copy performance, that is a great resource to cross-reference and build your generative AI advertising skills alongside this guide to ad image generation.

This article is built around three key ideas:

  1. Because AI is not creative, you are—be the creative director.
  2. Personalization boosts performance in advertising.
  3. Inclusive advertising is personalized advertising.

The most valuable generative AI advertising skill: your creativity

Creativity refers to the ability to create or bring into existence something new, whether it’s a novel solution to a problem, a fresh method or device, or an innovative artistic object or form.1 It encompasses originality, imagination, and the capacity to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships. In other words, creativity involves thinking beyond the ordinary and producing meaningful and valuable contributions to various domains. Whether it’s a groundbreaking scientific theory, a heart-pumping new music track, or a thought-provoking advertising campaign, creativity plays a vital role in shaping our world.2 So, embrace your creative spirit and explore new horizons!

When you provide a prompt to Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform for generating images, it uses the advanced AI of DALL-E 3. The first step is to write a clear prompt with detail. Be specific about what you want the image to look like, by drawing upon your vast knowledge of your customers, information from performance-boosting insights such as the Marketing with Purpose playbook, and data from any applicable third-party research studies. This is where you become the creative advertising mixologist, infusing insights and using descriptive language which Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform responds best to.

To generate images, click ‘Create campaign’ and select “Refine” to get recommendations by providing new descriptions with your prompt with the right starter words (suggestions below). Otherwise, you might get images that are not quite at the level of detail you're looking for.

Checklist: Prompt writing ingredients for image creation

  • A clear action: Make, create, paint, illustrate, draw, generate
  • Image type: Specify the type of image you want (such as landscape, portrait, abstract, photorealistic).
  • Subject: Clearly define the main subject of the image (such as people, places, things).
  • Context: Describe the setting or context, like the scene or background.
  • Details: Include specific descriptors (like colors, shapes, textures).
  • Lighting: Mention the lighting conditions (such as bright, moody, dark).
  • Framing: Consider the composition and framing. (like, balanced, diagonal, rule of thirds).
  • Lens and camera: Imagine the perspective (for example, wide-angle, close-up, macro).
  • Style: Indicate the artistic style you prefer (like realistic, surreal, or your brand style).
  • Insights: Key customer, human, or industry insights.

Experiment with metaphors, analogies, and humor if they align to your brand. Combine different elements to generate unique and interesting images. For a basic instance, “create an image of a flower delivery man,” produced the following result:

A computer screenshot of 4 versions of men holding flowers in front of a flower shop, looking cheerful.

* Image creation isn’t consistent and sometimes requires an iterative process to get what you’re envisioning.

These images are just OK if you don’t have brand guidelines, more campaign details, or a specific customer scenario in mind.

A better approach is to follow the prompt checklist above and have generative AI add important image details that might be relevant to your brand and campaign goals. Let’s say that our target audience is parents who have a child in college. We tell the AI, “create four versions of a photorealistic image of a flower delivery person in their 30’s with long hair tied in a pony-tail wearing a red branded flowers uniform but as outlined already, create two versions of a female gendered delivery person and two versions of a male gendered delivery person arriving on the doorstep of a college dorm room door indoors, holding birthday flowers for a woman wearing a purple and grey college sweatshirt and white shorts and tennis shoes, opening her door, reacting surprised and happy. Lighting should be bright and warm with all in focus.”

This more focused prompt will better spark Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform’s imagination. It’s simple: when you give more descriptions, the image Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform creates will be more specific. So, with a detailed prompt, such as the example above, an image would be created that inspires and appeals specifically to parents that are thinking about sending flowers to their child because it’s their birthday or because receiving flowers at college will show their kid they are thinking of them.

Remember, the more precise and imaginative your prompt, the better the results. Feel free to experiment and explore different combinations to bring your inner visions to life. Expect more from generative AI but remember: AI isn’t creative, you are. Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform can fulfill your advertising image needs, but the output depends on how well you serve as its “Creative Director.”

A computer screenshot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform of 4 versions of a photorealistic images each containing a flower delivery person in their 30’s with long hair tied in a ponytail wearing a red branded flowers uniform arriving on the doorstep of a college dorm room, holding birthday flowers for a woman wearing a purple and grey college sweatshirt and white shorts and tennis shoes, opening her door, reacting surprised and happy.

* Image creation isn’t consistent and sometimes requires an iterative process to get what you’re envisioning.

Why inclusion? Personalization yields ad performance

From our research, The Psychology of Inclusion and the Effects in Advertising, we netted a significant insight that Gen Z thinks inclusive advertising feels like connection or family. What is more intimate and personal than creating a sense of family or connection in the image you use in advertising?

According to a McKinsey study, The value of getting personalization right—or wrong—is multiplying | McKinsey, companies that connect intimately with their customers generate faster revenue growth than their competition. In fact, companies that excel at personalization generate 40% more revenue than average players. Across US industries, shifting to top-quartile performance in personalization would generate over $1 trillion in value. Companies who are leaders in personalization achieve outcomes by tailoring offerings to the right individual at the right moment with the right experiences. And the right experience includes personalized, inclusive advertising. Creativity is not only inherently human, but also inherently advertising. One of the best ways to creatively produce connections is to ensure the audience you are trying to connect with is represented. If we see ourselves represented, we’re more likely to feel connected to an ad, making us more likely to make a purchase.1

4 ways to integrate inclusivity into your image prompts

To stoke the fires of your creative process in this age of AI here are some Microsoft Advertising inclusive advertising imagery insights to incorporate into your image generating prompts and why.

Choosing imagery is an important part of the process in constructing a meaningful and inclusive customer experience. Why infuse inclusive insights? Our advertising study from The Psychology of Inclusive and the Effects in Advertising with Gen Z discovered a 23-point purchase intent lift when an ad was deemed inclusive. Inclusive brands don’t just want to reach people—they want to make people feel seen to the extent they feel that your brand not just represents them but is for them.

#1-Metaphors for Inclusion 

There are three metaphors for inclusion that can be used for creating more inclusive images: connection, openness, and balance. Our research discovered images that express a positive connection between people are key; if there is a negative association, for example a group of people keeping others from an opportunity, or an image that represents physically excluding someone, this could negate any other inclusive signals in the image. Images that indicate that the brand is openminded and or brings a sense of balance and equity can indicate inclusion. Consider portraying realistic diversity, including dimensions of diversity like body size, and ensuring that when more than one person is in a photo, that they are featured compositionally with the same prominence.

Connection: People in photos vs product only Creating a visible relationship or interaction between people (positive) More than one person in the image Realistic diversity Openness Including differently abled people Including larger bodies Including multiple people of color Including unique subsets of a diverse population Having people with intersectionality in diversity Balance Everyone is featured with the same prominence Multiple dimensions of diversity represented

#2-Fifty words for inclusion 

Now let’s consider the three inclusive metaphors as they apply to the fifty inclusive words, we uncovered in our research that can signal inclusion in advertising. You might consider these words when creating imagery aligned to your brand and product truths.

Three metaphors for inclusion. 50 words to signal inclusion in ad copy

#3-Twelve feelings of inclusion 

Also, another set of inclusive advertising insights to leverage when writing prompt for images are the 12 feelings of inclusion in advertising:

12 feelings of inclusion shown in Venn diagram.

You can experiment with the feeling that you want the image to inspire in a person after experiencing your ad. You might want someone’s expression in an ad to appear sarcastic, but acknowledge that your audience might interpret that facial expression in different ways, and they might feel joy or zest since they see it as humorous, or they might feel disdain or alienated from that ad. In advertising, it is important to understand what feeling you are trying to convey with your imagery and test it out.

Understanding inclusive feelings is an important aspect in creating the right mood in your ad since it can influence a decision to purchase a product, recommend a brand, or defend a brand in a misstep. In determining the significance of feelings, Neuroscientist, Antonio Demasi discovered that people cannot make decisions without accessing their emotions. Therefore, boosting the performance of your ads is linked with how well you emotionally connect with your audience. Having high emotional intelligence toward your customer is key to authentically crafting imagery that inspires the right feelings, aligned to your product truths. What are your customers’ pain points? Do they lack confidence, feel unsafe, or feel burdened? An ad that personalizes the image to convey confidence, safety, or relief (to name a few— there are twelve) would deliver an experience that connects and can inspire purchase.

#4-Inclusive image creation tips

And finally, don’t forget to:

  1. Seek to represent human diversity that is unique and realistic. Understanding how to include is at the heart of personalization.
  2. Aim to create realistic images rather than idealistic, stereotypes, or tropes.
  3. Have a wide variety of people review your creative to uncover bias, such as non-obvious negative connotations, stereotypes, cultural inaccuracies, or associations.
  4. To review creative, invite your company's Employee Resource Groups that match the audience you want to reach to be part of the creative review process.
  5. Within your creative, ask yourself what the common human experience is. The common thread can serve to connect all while representing a spectrum of people that your potential customer base could be. Don’t forget inclusive advertising feels like connection or family.

To conclude, use AI to make your ads more relevant, personalized and inclusive, but don’t lose your own creativity. After all, you’re creative, not AI!

Join me at the Cannes Festival of Creativity at the Microsoft Beach House at 64 Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, France where I’ll be discussing “Inclusive & Sustainable Business Impact: Unlocking Possibilities in a Changing Climate” on June 18, 2024, 4-5pm CST followed by a Happy Hour from 5-6pm Register here now.


  • MJ DePalma


    MJ DePalma

Recommended for you

Blog post

Power user’s guide to AI for advanced scenarios

In this blog post, we will share insights and tips on how to become a power user of AI for advanced scenarios. This is the first blog of a 3-part series, where we will focus on how you may develop yourself and your team to use AI effectively and confidently in your work.

June 24, 2024

Two people, one is sitting at a desk taking notes in a notebook while looking and smiling at a laptop. The second person in standing on the side and smiling.

Blog post

Consumer trust and ad potential in conversational search

Consumer interest in generative AI and exploring the many use cases for this emerging technology is increasing. Microsoft Advertising and Publicis Media collaborated on a custom research study to better understand how consumers are experimenting with generative AI platforms, the barriers and opportunities around adoption, and attitudes and opportunities for advertisers around AI-powered conversational search.

June 18, 2024

Four people in a classroom looking surprised at a laptop.

Blog post

How Microsoft Advertising is revolutionizing productivity with AI

A 3-part series on how generative AI can empower advertising and marketing professionals to achieve more.

June 06, 2024

Four people in public transportation. One is showing something on a tablet to the person sitting next to them.