Are we taking AI too far?

AI offers us the ability to interact with customers on their terms 24/7, but can it really create rich, relevant advertising on a customized basis?

While marketing scientists seem to think AI will solve the escalating demand for relevant content without breaking the bank, I’m concerned we’re overstepping the limits of what a computer can really do by having it create ads – and in the process risking the credibility and reputation of brands with the very people they aim to engage.

This is part of a larger problem in marketing. We keep looking for answers in technology that we should be looking for in human connection.

I’m guessing most advertising people, like me, get fascinated with AI and want to test everything it can possibly do. After all, creating new means and methods of communication is fundamental to our business. We’re paid to take platforms as far as they can go. But our charge is also to create ideas beyond the available data and logic that computers are limited to, and write them into great advertising that plays on human senses and emotions.

That’s where AI reaches its limit. AI is not an ideal creative engine, because computers can’t be people. They can think, but they can’t feel and sense, or make emotional connections between impulses. They don’t know the feeling of sinking your toes into wet sand as waves roll over your feet; or the sensation of the wind pushing your hand up and down when you hold it out the window of a speeding car. Without this kind of shared emotional reference, a message about human experience will feel hollow.

In other words, AI has no soul. And it’s soul that sells. The emotional response we seek as marketers isn’t a chain of logic; it’s the triggering of a feeling rooted in a sensation. That’s why 'Got milk?' swayed a generation where 'Milk, it does a body good' fell flat. And it’s why 'You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” resonates three levels higher than 'Snickers satisfies' ever could.

Great advertising has exponential impact and efficiency because it’s created from this kind of instinctive connection, not the instantaneous organization of data points. We create from impulses and senses a computer can’t feel. We can automate message delivery on a media platform; but we can’t automate creation. When AI creates, we’ll be horribly wrong sometimes. That’s a chance brands can’t afford to take in an era where consumers don’t give out second chances.

More than ever, advertising is an ideas business and marketers need breakthrough ideas. As we deepen our reliance on technology to develop platforms and disseminate advertising, we have to protect the primary of true source – people sensing human truths that will resonate in the human experience. That’s where creative breakthroughs live. Let’s keep the computer’s role to finding connections and aggregating information that can fuel insights by people who can feel whether ideas will resonate with others.

Ed Chambliss is president of Phelps

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Ed Chambliss

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