By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

February 14, 2024 | 5 min read

Gen AI is not the future; it’s here. Cookie depreciation is no longer on the horizon; it’s underway. It’s time to stop theorizing about what technology’s impact on marketing might be and start reckoning with how it is impacting marketing right now.

At the turn of this month, WPP announced it would be making a $316.8m (£250m) investment in AI technology in 2024 on the basis that AI will “transform” the advertising industry.

The holding company’s chief technology officer, Stephan Pretorius, took to the stage at The Drum’s Predictions event just a day after briefing investors on the plans at WPP’s Capital Markets Day. He explained that WPP had been “incrementally” applying AI to marketing over the past few years, and now it is setting out the scale of its ambition.

“We felt it was appropriate to quantify that investment for the street and for our investors to put a stake in the ground and say how important this phenomenon is to us and how seriously we take it,” he said at Predictions. “To be at the cutting edge of AI requires a significant investment.”

Most of the £250m pot is going into operational efficiencies and content creation, per Pretorious. “Applying AI to marketing isn’t a trivial topic,” he said. “You need very specific pipelines and very specific outcomes. It’s not about good content it’s about correct content.”

At Seedtag, contextual AI is the focus. Jana Eisenstein, who is senior vice-president of EMEA at Seedtag, explained the opportunity presented by generative AI for “marrying” content with audience context.

“It is not just about using generative AI to create something quickly,” she said. “It’s more about being able to take the learnings of what the contextual environment is, what the interests are, understanding what is being viewed, what’s resonating ... and then integrating it into the creative.”

It’s still early days in terms of measuring the effectiveness, but Eisenstein is encouraged by efforts so far. “When you apply contextual creative on top of generative AI capabilities, we saw a 20% uplift in attention metrics – it does drive attention.”

The end of the cookie was also discussed at length at the event. Patrick Zinga, who is the automated media, data, and technology lead for Heineken, said he feels prepared for the end of the cookie and understands the impact on reaching audiences.

A big focus for Heineken has been figuring out how to gather first-party data. “How do we increase our direct for consumer conversations and how do we acquire our first-party data and make relationships with customers directly?” has been Zinga’s preoccupation. Heineken has built a consumer experience team and hired a consumer experience planner whose remit is to ensure there is consistency across all comms and find ways to acquire data and give a value exchange.

“The more conversations you have with consumers and the more you treat them like part of the family and have those conversations directly actually increases brand loyalty,” Zinga added.

Elsewhere in the conversation, Dom Birch, managing director at WhySocial, argued there is a “divergence” happening in tech. At the same time AI is helping marketers find efficiencies, social media signals are becoming harder to come by. “If you look at the kinds of tools that automatically gather data from social media channels, a lot of that data is now hidden from view,” he said.

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“From a brand perspective we’re a bit bamboozled,” he continued. “On the one hand, we have the most powerful tools at our fingertips. But you still need that human intelligence, you still need that interpretation. The danger sometimes is that the tools come along and look like a way of doing something quicker, but it still requires the human craft and skill.”

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