Artificial Intelligence Agencies Agency Leadership

The marketing AI optimism barometer: how are ad execs feeling?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

June 26, 2023 | 11 min read

The Drum polled 10 leading marketers from The Drum Network on how optimistic, pessimistic, bullish, bearish, bored or excited they’re feeling amid AI mania. Spoiler: they don’t quite agree.

A glass half empty - or half full, depending on your disposition

AI and marketing: are ad execs feeling optimistic? / Manu Schwendener via Unsplash

This year's AI mania shows no sign of slowing down. Just over the last week or so, Ogilvy announced a 'crackdown' on AI-generated influencer ads, a Forrester report predicted that AI will take 7.5% of US agency jobs by 2023, and AI dominated the conversation at last week’s Cannes Lions festival.

Clearly, this is no flash-in-the-pan topic of interest, but one that will continue to dominate the marketing industry’s evolution. Keeping track of all the news is tough; taking a position on all of this is even tougher. We asked eight top marketers how they were feeling.

Nick Elsom, director, FourForty: “Right now, I'm feeling irritated about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“Unthinking AI evangelists spread the word like eager Sixth Formers with a new band discovery. Like that band, most of the evidence is that they’re controversial and cool, but underneath they’re just crap. The cleverness of AI gadgetry is undeniable: fast-expanding from essay writing to strategy creation; photo editing to imaginary friends. But these feel like distractions, not life-changers.

“The recent ‘expanded’ album covers including the Nevermind baby joined by fish and coral – just, wow. Why don’t I ignore it and get back to work? Because these irritants are becoming more common, and the evangelists seem not to care that irritants can become catastrophic. Like a leak left unattended, the technology that fuels your SnapChat bot is quietly seeping into parts of the marketing and creative industries in ways that are more likely to cause lasting damage to employment and customer trust than to build a better market.”

Alex Hoban, UK executive creative director, Momentum Worldwide: “Right now, I’m feeling open-minded and accepting about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“With every round of rapid technological advancement, fears and reservations commingle with excitement and opportunity. Freud was famously skeptical of the invention of radio, for its potential to influence mass psychology and its potential use for propaganda. In some cases (hello, Soviet Union!) this turned out to be prescient and true – but, equally, with no radio, there’d also be no BBC 6 Music. Every tech advancement fundamentally changes the way we relate to each other, by rearranging the fabric of our lived experience.

“Right now, AI occupies a similarly divisive place in our imaginations. The status quo is again at stake. AI will undoubtedly upset labor, and (in the wrong hands) exacerbate economic and social inequality. But as an opportunity for marketers to explore evolved human-to-human and human-to-machine interaction, it can enhance and augment our natural capabilities, foster greater connectivity, unlock creativity, and in the best case access a deeper understanding of what it is to be alive.”

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Bob Briski, chief technology officer, Dept: “Generative AI holds the promise of delivering the ‘holy grail’ of marketing: expert personalization across every application. But what if personalization doesn't turn out to be the marketing panacea we’ve anticipated? Mobile phones offered us what we thought we desired: the ability to make and receive calls anytime, anywhere. Unexpectedly, our preference shifted toward less vocal communication. Calls gave way to texts, then emails, and ultimately, social media.

“Similarly, what if our customers don't crave personalization as much as we believe they do? What if they yearn for experiences that introduce them to new horizons, or (more disconcertingly), what if we're uncertain about what they truly desire? I remain hopeful that AI will be the technological breakthrough allowing us to enrich our customers’ lives, to make them more enjoyable, and more fulfilling... even if we don't yet know what that entails.”

Tom Jarvis, chief executive officer, Wilderness: “Right now, I'm feeling bullish about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“The reason for this is that we are not only starting to use existing AI tools within our workflows; we are also looking to invest our time and resource in creating our own AI tools and products.

“Most exciting is the interest we have from our team, clients and partners in finding solutions that allow us to work more effectively and efficiently. We want to remain a best-in-class social agency, which will mean embracing new ways of working and new technology like AI-powered tools.”

Ben Wood, growth and innovation director, Hallam: “Right now, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“AI's transformative potential in marketing is undeniable, promising unprecedented efficiency and personalization. However, sensationalism has glossed over some of the major challenges. Many marketers are fueling unrealistic expectations and misrepresenting AI’s capabilities.

“We’re now swimming in AI misinformation; ‘AI’ has become a marketing term and most people using it don't know what technology they are even referring to. In fact, 99.9% of the time we talk about AI, we’re really talking about machine learning: technology able to identify patterns and compute at a level far above the human mind. For most ML projects, the term ‘AI’ goes too far: it overly inflates expectations and distracts from the precise way these algorithms will help.

“Generative AI is making mediocrity free for all. It's time for humans to step up. If a random person with no background in art can use Midjourney to produce decent art, a good artist can and should do better. This analogy extends to every area of marketing and indeed business as a whole.”

Gareth Llewellyn, managing director, Brew Digital: “I'm feeling excited about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“It’s too easy to spend all your energy catastrophizing about AI (remember Y2K?). But, let’s face it, if AI is going to wipe out humanity, that’s out of our individual control anyway. Meanwhile, I’m already seeing so much opportunity and reason to be excited. AI is starting to deliver on the promises of computerization from many years ago, enabling us to automate and speed up time-consuming, boring processes.

“More specifically, it can be a helping hand for people – giving them ideas, helping them find what information they need, visualizing concepts, and enabling them to be more focussed on the core aspects of their role: being creative, and coming up with interesting, innovative solutions.”

Mark Iremonger, managing director and strategy partner, Nucco: “I’m feeling positive about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“AI is as disruptive and transformational as ‘digital’ was back in the day. In ten years, we will look back in wonder. AI already offers powerful super-tools that were in the realm of science fiction only a few years ago. All disciplines benefit immediately, from reducing admin for client services to desk research for strategists, supporting the creative process and reducing waste in media spend. There’s plenty to be concerned about, particularly data security, privacy, copyright, and regulation. You need to skill up now or get left behind.”

Andy Sexton, agency partner and executive creative director, 2LK: “I’m feeling ecstatic about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“I hear so much hype about the AI-induced ‘end of creativity’, but for me, there have never been more opportunities (or imperatives) for creativity and innovation. We’re entering an unbelievably fertile new era (or creative territory) where, as an industry and society, we’ll reimagine how we connect with machines – and how we’ll connect with one another. When I think about how AI might humanize technology, the opportunities in and out of the marketing landscape feel limitless.”

Ian Kahn, paid media account director, Tug: “Right now, I'm feeling curious about what AI will do to the marketing industry.

“AI has the power to transform digital marketing by leveraging advanced machine learning technologies to achieve business goals. As with all forms of machine learning, however, the output is only as good as the data used to train it. Successful marketers will need strong skills in collecting and aligning data with ad platforms and rely much less on manual adjustments. This saves time but increases the necessity of data operations such as CRM integration, server-side tracking, website development, and data privacy – areas of business that often require skills and support beyond traditional marketing departments.

“These challenges will make marketers more focused on how to train AI rather than on granular campaign optimizations. It will be interesting to see how marketers tackle the creative challenges of market differentiation and audience segmentation when smart bidding works best by seeking out the lowest common denominator for success.”

Charlie Norledge, head of search engine optimization performance, Impression: “Right now, I’m feeling eager about what AI will do to the marketing industry”

“There’s a natural defensiveness, with some marketers feeling that AI is coming to take their jobs. While I understand the sentiment, a human will always be a crucial part of any marketing strategy using AI.

“We leverage AI to create content in our work; with issues cropping up, such as hallucinations and plagiarism, we always have a human at the start and the end of this process. Following this rule allows us to fact-check and QA to ensure accuracy.

“With the above in mind, AI will never be able to replicate 100% of how a human can impact a marketing strategy. I’m curious to see how we can work with this efficiently.”

Artificial Intelligence Agencies Agency Leadership

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