What’s missing is the eyebrows: marketers need AI for heavy lifting, not emotion

“I'm a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I'm afraid."

These were the words uttered by Garry Kasparov, then the world’s best chess player as he lost to a computer, IBM’s Deep Blue, in 1997. The dominance of intelligent machines over humans is a concept that has haunted the human psyche since the early ages of mechanisation and resulted in some of the world’s best fiction.

As the availability of cheap computing power grows exponentially and algorithms grow ever more able to anticipate and respond to human behaviour, artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly moving from the realms of science fiction to everyday reality. Not only do computers routinely beat the world’s best human chess players, voice-powered personal assistants help us through our social lives and self-driving cars have already clocked up millions of miles around the world’s busiest cities.

As in previous eras of technological advance, the rise of AI today is accompanied by fears that the machines will take our jobs and result in mass unemployment. Indeed, an Oxford University study in 2015 discovered that there was a 33% chance that the marketing profession would be automated within the next two decades.

Do marketers need to brush up their CVs and prepare to find work in another field? Perhaps not quite yet. The adoption of machine intelligence is already opening up new vistas of opportunity in the marketing industry, and all signs point to AI creating more career prospects for marketing professionals.

Take the area of programmatic advertising for instance. Today, the best programmatic offerings depend on a creative alliance between AI and humans. Automated technology can serve millions of ads to online users, but human oversight is critical to ensuring that each ad reaches a relevant, ready-to-be-engaged consumer.

A quick look at the staggering scale of the data being generated and processed in delivering programmatic ads reveals exactly why AI has a useful role to play. There are 140 billion programmatic transactions each day – with ad sales executed according to the details buried in millions of anonymised individual user profiles.

Context classification technology can assess the content of 3 million web pages per second in order to serve more relevant ads to visitors based on whatever they’re reading at a given moment in time. It is powerful enough to determine whether the cougar mentioned on a web page refers to the animal or human variety.

Add in other layers of information – such as signals from social networks and trending topics – and it’s clear that programmatic offers a rich world of data well-suited to the investigative abilities of clever algorithms.

With AI algorithms processing large amounts of data, performing repetitive tasks and sifting through the data, this frees up human brainpower to translate the machines’ learning into better value for brands. While AI can unlock unique, data-driven insights into human behaviour, it is the human touch still that dictates the success or failure of marketing campaigns. As Frank Zappa famously said “The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows”

With thousands of brands vying for an individual consumer’s attention each day, marketers that want to stand out from the crowd can’t rely on AI alone – they need advertising campaigns that pack creativity, humour and an emotional punch. The very traits that have always comprised the essence of successful marketing.

Chris Pattinson is vice president of Grapeshot Asia Pacific.

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