Marketing Artificial Intelligence Personalisation

AI and creativity: Enemies or allies in personalized marketing?

By Adam Reader | Head of strategy

M&C Saatchi Group


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November 20, 2023 | 9 min read

Can AI help marketers to the holy grail of comms truly personalized to individuals? M&C Saatchi One-to-One’s Adam Reader, with input from Hero Studios’ Patrick Scerri and Alejandro Norman, says it already is.

Disney character Wall-E looking at a setting sun

/ Dominik Scythe via Unsplash / Character: Disney/Pixar

Recent developments in generative AI have made waves across the creative industries. As copywriters, art directors, designers, and even Drake grapple with the rapid evolution and implications of AI tools, critics claim it signifies the end of creativity as we know it. On the surface, this might seem true, but does AI really sound the proverbial death knell? Or is it a gateway to an era where creativity can thrive through meeting growing demand for personalized brand experiences?

The world of customer communications is paradoxical: we define target customer groups that share attributes for action and seek ‘unifying truths’ that provide platforms for creative ideas. However, we know that no two customers are truly identical. Nor do they expect to be treated as such (two-thirds expect companies to adapt experiences to match their changing needs).

The goal, then, is to create ideas that flex around individuals. But while many marketers are adept at finding universal ideas, most campaign budgets only allow for at most some variants. Thus, they never achieve true one-to-one personalization.

But AI provides a solution, introducing brands into new realms of personalization by creating millions of unique versions of a campaign quickly and economically.

Carvana’s Joyride, a good early example, used AI and generative adversarial networks (GAN), taking each of their customers on a ‘joyride' of the day they bought their car. Incorporating customer data points (name, when, where, and what car they purchased) Carvana generated new images, 3D models, and a narrator that, combined around a consistent narrative, created 1.3m+ uniquely personalized videos.

Through examples like this, we can start to imagine how AI and data could shape future campaigns. Local weather forecasts affect the background of Black Friday sale emails; mobile phone upgrade offers feature images of things you use your phone for; text messages change copy tone depending on the time of day. So how can marketers seize these opportunities for their own brands?

1. Openness

Brands must be ready for a computerized version of improvisation. In many ways, AI is less ‘well-rehearsed classical orchestra’ and more ‘unscripted jazz quartet’.

A base structure can be created through prompts but part of what makes AI exciting is its unexpected outputs. Brands should lean into this inherent experimentation, using it to enable users, teams and partners to create never-before-seen visuals. Bands leveraging AI therefore shouldn’t look for manicured ‘traditional’ content, but the unique imagery AI offers.

2. Brand assets & guidelines

An open mindset does not mean to proceed with reckless abandon. Unless your brand image is iconic enough to define a product category (see Heinz’ What Ketchup Looks Like), establish clear guardrails.

To start, assess the flexibility of current brand guidelines and determine which elements can be relaxed to enable AI-driven innovation. This isn’t about compromising your brand, but identifying where you have room for iteration. Similarly, for brands with rigid guidelines, the goal is to identify non-negotiable elements and ensure they remain consistent through a suite of centrally approved assets. Then, provide creators (internal and external) freedom to collaborate with AI on peripheral aspects.

This is an approach exemplified by Coca-Cola, which invited digital artists to harness a new AI platform, generating new, community-led expressions of the brand while remaining authentically Coca-Cola.

3. Ethics & moderation

A heightened sense of responsibility and ethical considerations must be at the forefront of any AI-driven strategy. Harmful and discriminatory stereotypes can be perpetuated via biases present in training data.

Brands must actively engage in bias detection and mitigation efforts to ensure AI-generated content is inclusive and respectful of diverse perspectives. By adopting rigorous ethical guidelines and conducting regular audits, brands can navigate this complex terrain while upholding a commitment to DEI.

Brands must be transparent when using AI about the technology’s role in content generation and the steps taken to mitigate biases, to maintain trust with their audience. This transparency fosters credibility and empowers consumers to make informed content decisions.

4. Create something meaningful

Personalization often takes form through data including names, purchasing, or browsing statistics. There’s potential for much more. Digging deeper into new and existing data provides opportunities to create campaigns that scale using AI.

For example, a sneaker company could create interactive commercials that allow customers to describe their favorite texture. Using AI and real-time tools the design could be updated instantly, giving users the option to order the custom shoe, establishing a meaningful bond between brand and customer through personalization and unique products. It’s for this uniqueness that brands should leverage AI, rather than simply changing out names or stats in campaign assets.

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5. Beyond templates

The promise of AI in personalized marketing is not confined to generating variant templates. As marketers explore ways to incorporate AI, they should keep in mind the next likely phase where the technology can make real-time decisions on the type, style, and timing of communications. To tap into this, marketers must go beyond traditional data sets (demographic and transactional) and instead leverage contextual, behavioral, attitudinal, and psychographic metrics. AI can then be empowered to make choices that are not just aesthetic, but also strategic – deciding communication approach as well as format, whether email, direct message, or even no communication at all.

At the intersection of AI and creativity, many have been quick to lament the perceived decline of human creativity. Yet, far from signaling its death, these pioneering tools herald a creative renaissance, offering unparalleled opportunities for more profound, personalized expressions of creativity that speak directly to individuals and invite them to engage in novel ways.

This AI-driven evolution underscores the enduring importance of the human touch. The tools may have changed, but the soul of effective marketing remains rooted in human insights and deeply customer-centric strategies. It requires empathy, intuition, and a nuanced understanding of the human experience to conceptualize ideas that resonate authentically with real people. AI doesn't replace this human essence; it magnifies its impact, allowing us to realize a long-held ambition: to cultivate a genuine, personal connection with every single customer.

Marketing Artificial Intelligence Personalisation

Content by The Drum Network member:

M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

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