Artificial Intelligence Agencies Agency Leadership

Has AI oversaturation already killed the opportunity to stand out?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

April 15, 2024 | 10 min read

Every marketing agency in the land, it seems, has added ‘AI’ to its list of capabilities. So is it already too late to use AI to stand out? We asked agency leaders from The Drum Network.

Three cartoon characters

Can agencies still stand out in the crowded AI market? / BBiDDac via Unsplash

You can hardly say that the tide is turning on AI mania… but. Amid continued AI obsession, rumblings of oversaturation are growing. Meanwhile, the ad industry has invested heavily in AI over the last couple of years. But with seemingly everyone making that same investment, is AI capability table stakes now? Or is it still possible, somehow, for people in marketing to stand out with AI? We asked eight leading marketers.

Alex Moran, search engine optimization lead, Space & Time: “Has overexposure made it impossible to stand out with AI? Absolutely not! AI can only take existing information and process it, so the oversaturation of web content only exists if you are not creating something unique. Brand expert opinions, how brands apply their USPs to any product/service, being on the cutting edge of new change/news, and customer experiences all have the opportunity to be unique. These are just a few ways you can stand out, but many of them fall in line with the way Google is changing to cater for uniqueness via recent ‘E-E-A-T’ and ‘Helpful Content’ updates and ‘perspectives’ and ‘forums’ search options. As a brand it is more important than ever to consider what makes you unique, where your expertise is and showing your positive customer experiences. AI can never replace these.”

Jordan Carroll, innovation director, The Fifth: “Challenger agencies: sit back, watch, and observe. Let incumbent agencies plow eight-figure budgets into the AI-driven commodification of creativity. Don’t chase a race you can’t win. Like the metaverse and NFTs before it, there’s a chance they may be jumping the gun. A recent study by MIT showed that consumers have a positive bias towards human content when exposed to both AI-generated and human-created content, especially when AI content is labeled as such. Meanwhile, from May 2024, content generated with AI will be tagged on Meta. Those same incumbent agencies dialling up AI investment are also dialling up attention and effectiveness measurement. Are they about to find out that the way in which they invested into gen AI creative tools was misgiven? For challengers, perhaps having a firm stance on being human-centric is how you stand out for the time being. See how this thing plays out.”

Lee Bofkin, chief executive and co-founder, Global Street Art: “We ask about the value of AI in marketing but perhaps, given the amazing ability of AI to impose structure on any topic, we should perhaps ask what the remaining value is of the human in a world of AI-driven marketing? AI can already give most humans a run for their money on all manner of topics, but it lacks the judgment of a human. The role of humans will shift from ideator to editor, with AI leading the way in generating a lot of reasonable ideas, quickly, without fixating on the first viable solution, which is a human flaw.

Present models of AI suffer from ‘catastrophic forgetting’, but this isn’t widely understood, least of all in marketing. When you train an AI model on new data (or update the weights in nodes,) it can suddenly lose abilities: a task it previously did well it now sucks at. Humans don’t have this problem because of the difference between how our short- and long-term memories function and how we consolidate learning. AI also lacks wisdom and doesn't remember brilliant campaign ideas from 20 years ago. The grey matter of grey hair still has much to offer where AI, in its infantile wisdom, doesn’t yet know that it’s lacking.”

Paul Sluimers, Founder/Managing Director at (an Ambassadors company): “Will AI help you to stand out in content creation? Right now, absolutely. If you do it well. It’s new, it shows us something we’ve never seen before, and all with seemingly great ease. But soon we’ll get used to all the amazing results and the use of AI will become the norm in content production once we agree on the ethical use of it. The latter is important: eventually what makes us stand out will be the quality in storytelling, the concept, the ability to art-direct moving images and the ease of production for your client. Sure, the financials are important. But in the end, you need content that works, intrigues or inspires, whether you use AI or not. In the end that will no longer matter.”

James Bentham, head of search engine optimization, Search Laboratory: “While AI's integration is indeed reshaping how agencies approach their strategies, the essence of marketing – understanding a customer's behavior, needs, and emotions – remains a distinctly human skill. This human element is where agencies can still establish a point of difference. While AI offers powerful insights and automation capabilities, it lacks the depth of empathy and intuitive understanding that we as marketers bring to the table. The most successful agencies will leverage AI as a tool to derive insights and efficiencies but lean into the expertise of their team to translate those insights into ROI for their clients.”

Emily Lowes, global marketing director, Raptor Marketing: “Many agencies and brands are taking the leap to optimize, personalize and generate creativity with AI. But industry conversations seem to be funneling top-down, focusing on the headline-hitting developments and advances, rather than bottom-up, with smaller consumer-led changes that may create bigger shifts in behavior, and our approach to marketing. Gen Z is among the biggest drivers of AI adoption without even realizing it, from the TikTok and Snapchat filters that alter their appearance, to adopting wearable technology powered by AI such as Zoe in the health and nutrition space. To stand out from the crowd, marketers should start listening to young consumers, and begin to understand that the most important developments are in the everyday changes, rather than the technology conferences.”

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Jamie Manfield, digital design director, 2LK: “Opinions on generative AI are divided as people question the dichotomy between AI and true human creativity. Case in point: Robert Beatty’s (Kentucky-based artist and musician) stance that ‘I’m not anti-AI, I’m anti-shitty artwork’. As the accessible AI toolkit has grown, the past couple of years have seen mediocre ideas hide behind ‘cool’ AI tech. However, we’ve reached a stage where the novelty is wearing off, people are savvy to generative AI’s quirks, and fatigue is creeping in. Creative must return to the forefront, with AI to facilitate. To stand out, we need to capitalize on the magic of collaboration. If you can use AI as your assistant to supercharge your creative, process or output – that’s the sweet spot. It’s designed to help us, not just make things.”

Andy Martinus, global head of innovation, Team Lewis: “Not a day passes without questions about AI: its use, strategy, and impact. The queries, seemingly straightforward, hint at a larger narrative, that if you're not leveraging AI, you’re behind. This perception isn’t entirely accurate. Understanding AI's potential to enhance efficiency and creativity is now crucial, but that alone won’t help you to stand out. Marketers strive to differentiate themselves, but the real question is: for whom and to what end? We often celebrate ideas based on creative and not on their impact. To stand out, you need to solve problems for clients through understanding their audience. AI can be a formidable ally, amplifying insights and elevating strategies. However, it's not a universal solution. The secret to making a lasting impact lies in using AI to elevate human intuition and creativity. It may end up having a bigger impact on the process (and not the output).”

Artificial Intelligence Agencies Agency Leadership

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