I, Marketer: AI and the future of marketing

Like many people, I start most mornings digging myself out of an inbox that often feels like more trouble than it’s worth thanks to the seemingly infinite amount of newsletters I receive. And although these newsletters cross verticals as varied as marketing, technology, advertising and the agency world, lately each one has a headline that includes artificial intelligence. Not surprisingly, all of us are curious to know how this growing field of technology is going to infiltrate our professional and personal lives.

Across every industry, people are afraid that AI is going to steal jobs. As a marketer I don’t think we have any urgent concerns over job security. It’s going to be a while before the technology is so advanced that our creative and critical thinking muscles are no longer needed. We should, however, think seriously about the different ways we could utilize artificial intelligence in our industry.

In our immediate futures, I do see potential for us to be employing artificial intelligence to help us analyze previous creative executions, evaluate our creative efficaciousness, and one day even provide us with solutions and creative to new campaigns (at which point we may really need to worry about job security for marketers). When thinking ahead, however, I think it’s helpful to first contextualize where we are now, so we know how much further we have to go.

AI and marketing today

There are already spaces in which we are seeing artificial intelligence in marketing – the most obvious example being found in programmatic advertising, which started algorithmically and now uses AI. Programmatic has grown so rapidly that some projections see two-thirds of all digital display ads being bought programmatically this year. The reason this technology has been so successful is because it streamlined the process of ad placement by literally cutting out the human middleman, thereby making buying and selling more efficient and cheaper. While imperfect, it has certainly revolutionized the way we think about online campaigns, consumer targeting, and custom content curation.

Recently, Mars Chocolate Australia and Clemenger BBDO Melbourne introduced a clever twist of AI in a marketing campaign. Through algorithms that analyzed language on social media, the price of Snickers bars in 7-Eleven stores throughout the country would proportionately fall to reflect the level of collective anger being spewed online.

As a self-proclaimed nerd, who works for an AI company, I realize that not every marketer is as familiar with AI technology as I am, so it might be worth it to give a little context as to why we should be trying to integrate it further into our industry.

If you’re not familiar with how this technology works, the hyper-abridged version is that artificial intelligence relies on what are called 'deep learning' boxes. These boxes are given training data sets that teach it about something – could be word patterns in different languages (eg Google Translate), images of objects (eg Blippar) or even human faces (eg Facebook’s tagging feature). Then, the more data is used to train the system, the more expert it becomes. Eventually, the technology is capable of performing tasks autonomously. Clearly, we are at the tip of the iceberg.

AI and marketing in the near future

Imagine how that same approach could be applied to something like a creative campaign. We’ve all been in a place where we felt stuck as marketers. We’ve all felt the anxiety of trying to innovate and do something new, while simultaneously feeling the pressure to replicate what has already been proven a success –regardless of what hand you’ve been dealt. So, wouldn’t it be nice to have technology that can assist in refining your creative process?

If you think about that fact that you would technically be capable of feeding these learning boxes limitless amounts of data, then why wouldn’t it be able to analyze every ad your agency or brand has ever run, and then evaluate your latest campaign ideas against it? There is potential for algorithms that could say things like, “this campaign was successful for factors such as strong copy, eye-catching visuals, or eliciting strong emotional reactions on social media”. Humans have been trying for years to figure out what makes viral content go viral; why not let the machines do that work for us? In this case, it wouldn’t replace the creative process at all, but it could make it stronger by letting you know in advance what will or won’t work.

Additionally, in the way that programmatic took away a lot of the grunt work of online ad placement, artificial intelligence could take away some of the less inspiring work we have to do as marketers. It could potentially do unstructured data research for us – aka do the 'Googling' we don’t necessarily have the time to do ourselves when it comes to market research. These days, we have an abundance of data available at our fingertips, and yet only 30 per cent of marketers feel like they know what to do with that data. I think the solution to that is furthering the development of artificial intelligence designed specifically to help marketers.

It may also be put to use to help us improve our targeting strategies. Although programmatic technology has made the buying and selling process faster, it still has a ways to go in the area of targeting the right ads to the right people. Any online shopper can tell you stories of being retargeted with ads for shoes they’ve already purchased. This isn’t a marketing issue as much as it’s an issue with new technology that still has a lot of room to grow.

AI and marketing in the far future

Most marketers enjoy the fact that their job descriptions require certain levels of creativity. And one of the biggest challenges to the developing software behind AI is that thus far, it can only work with what human developers feed it. Just a few months ago there was a media explosion over Microsoft’s AI-fueled Twitter account that was sadly exploited with racist, sexist and homophobic input from the Twitterverse.

But I think as the technology develops, it is inevitable that it will get to the point that it can craft campaigns and stories for us. Archetypes and plot charts exist for a reason – human nature has changed very little over the history of storytelling and therefore we enjoy the same types of stories being told over and over.

Through AI, the marketing of the future could well be run by machines that analyze predictive data sets to deliver curated, personalized content for a consumer’s eyes before they even realize they need it. Entire campaigns will likely be launched, executed and iterated upon without the intervention of a human hand.

So where does this leave us? The challenge for creatives is to add our own unique twists. I think that is the greater opportunity here. Artificial intelligence will push us as marketers to get outside of our comfort zones and try new things, craft more creative campaigns and utilize the data we have in better, more efficacious ways. For that reason, I welcome and look forward to using it more and more in our field. Otherwise, one day we just may be out of a job.

Omaid Hiwaizi is president of global marketing at Blippar

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