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Experts discuss evolving role of generative AI in marketing

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By Webb Wright, NY Reporter

January 3, 2024 | 7 min read

2023 was the breakout year for generative AI. To reflect on it, we conducted a virtual roundtable with members of The Drum Network to more clearly understand this technology's profound impact on the marketing world.

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Generative AI platforms like OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 are having a transformative effect upon the marketing industry. / Adobe Stock

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Dall-E 2 and Midjourney enable marketing professionals to create written copy, images and other forms of content virtually with the click of a button, saving massive amounts of time and money while presenting them with new creative possibilities. At the same time, the technology’s tendency to “hallucinate” (or provide false information veiled as truth), coupled with the fact that it can propagate harmful human biases, presents real risks to marketers and humanity at large. Forward-thinking marketers, therefore, have spent much of the past year thinking about and discussing the double-edged sword nature of generative AI and how it can be leveraged most effectively and safely.

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Bearing all of these ideas in mind, The Drum recently connected with a group of such forward-thinking marketers – all of whom are members of The Drum Network – for a virtual roundtable, which focused on some of the most important lessons they’ve learned after one year of experimenting with generative AI, and where the technology might lead the marketing industry in the future.

Here are some key themes that emerged throughout the one-hour conversation:

Marketers as generative AI guides

Anyone who’s tried to familiarize themselves with generative AI – or AI more broadly – knows that it’s not an easy subject to wrap one’s mind around. Even the engineers building generative AI don’t fully understand exactly how the models perform in the ways that they do (this is why such models are often described as a “black box”).

Marketers, however, are now often expected to be well-versed enough in the generative AI to be able to help their clients adopt the technology. “In the last 12 months, generative AI has been on everyone’s minds … Our clients don’t know what to do, don’t know how to implement it, so it’s up to us to guide them,” says Dora Moldovan, co-founder and managing director of Braidr and Luminr.

In that same spirit, Luke Budka, AI director at Definition, says that marketers have become a major resource that brands now depend upon to become educated about generative AI. “Clients are now coming to us and saying, ‘What do we do about the gen AI stuff?’” he says. “We’re the ones leading the conversation on that, and that’s given us an opportunity to build out new services. For the first time, we’re building software; we’ve never done that before, but now we are because companies are talking to us about it first.”

An emerging dichotomy

Despite its relatively recent appearance on the mainstream cultural stage, AI – and especially generative AI – is already widely viewed by many marketers as being an absolutely essential tool within their industry. By extension, there appears to be a growing consensus that marketers who embrace AI in the present will have a significant future advantage over those who don’t. As the futurist Daniel Burrus (who was not a part of the virtual roundtable) recently told The Drum in an interview, AI will not replace humans, but rather, “humans will be replaced by humans using AI.”

Patrick Furse, digital strategy director at Bray Leino, argued that the rise of generative AI is creating a dichotomy within the marketing world: “What it’s created,” he says, “is the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots,’ or the ‘have trieds’ and the ‘have not trieds’; it’s created quite a distinct boundary between those two worlds.”

The implicit injunction, then, is that marketers who delay their efforts to educate themselves about AI risk being left behind.

Don’t just fit in, stand out

The rush among brands to embrace AI over the past year – and to thereby demonstrate to audiences that they’re on top of this transformative technological trend – has also arguably produced, in some cases, an unfortunate emphasis on speed over quality.

According to Zara Kerwood, senior director of creative technology at George P. Johnson (UK and Nordics), the point of leveraging AI in a marketing campaign should not be to show off the flashiness of the tech itself, but rather to enhance the customer experience. “Early on, we were hearing [from brands], ‘Can I have an AI campaign? Can I have an AI experience?’ And we were like, ‘Hang on a minute, you’re missing the point – [AI] should be the technology in the background.”

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The challenge that brands and marketers now face, Kerwood says, lies in “creating that point of difference”; that is, leveraging AI in a unique and yet non-gimmicky manner. Without that ability, Kerwood fears that her industry is headed for a wave of monotonous and unimaginative uses of generative AI.

“We really need to check ourselves in that,” she says.

For more on the latest happenings in AI, web3 and other cutting-edge technologies, sign up for The Emerging Tech Briefing newsletter.

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