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Artificial Intelligence Branding Marketing

As AI enters the branding world, 3 vital things are missing

By Houda Sayed, Senior Strategist

1HQ Brand Agency


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March 27, 2024 | 7 min read

AI is everywhere now, including branding and campaign work. But go carefully, says 1HQ’s Houda Sayed. It’s still no human beater.

A rudimentary metallic robot in a field

/ Dylan Hunter via Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to have a huge impact in almost every industry. Marketing is no exception. But, right now, where is the technology currently adding value? And where is it falling short?

No heart

AI lacks one of the vital ingredients needed to make compelling brand connections with consumers: heart. The emotion, empathy and cultural context that drives engagement.

As Ian Maskell, founder of Pecorino Group and ex-vice president of marketing at Unilever (and valued client of 1HQ) puts it, “Relying only on AI-generated content risks generic or formulaic branding, lacking uniqueness and emotional resonance. Branding should evoke emotion; this human touch is still vital in the creative process.”

Just like humans, brands must mindfully connect with their audience, embracing a strong, consistent personality that reflects beliefs and values, resonating with the right crowd. Loved brands effortlessly evoke emotions in every interaction with their audience.

Emotions drive the way forward. If brands don’t win hearts, they can’t survive. With AI tools having an increasing impact, it’s even more crucial now.

Maskell neatly sums up this challenge: “Human strategists can assess the cultural context, social dynamics, and complex consumer behaviors that AI struggles to fully grasp. Creatives infuse their work with passion, empathy, and a deep understanding of human emotions, AI does not replicate this – which becomes obvious when you use it.”

Maintaining the human touch while managing AI tools is vital, ensuring they embody the brand’s essence and produce content that perfectly aligns with customer needs.

In this dynamic interplay between brands and their audiences, there are three key components that AI is (currently) unable to provide.

1. Emotional intelligence

Successful branding is all about understanding customers’ moods, behaviors and impulses to form deep connections. Relevance is the key to success. It’s all about connecting emotionally with consumers and meeting their needs.

So, while AI falls short in emotional intelligence, human strategists and creatives step in to grasp audiences’ emotions, laying the foundation for meaningful interactions.

Take Ikea’s ‘Proudly Second Best’ campaign, a recent example of strong emotional insight. Knowing that parents seek products that simplify parenthood without losing warmth, Ikea tapped into the love-and-care trigger, forging an authentic bond with families.

2. Cultural context

True connection often comes from understanding a society’s beliefs and practices – tied to emotional intelligence. Brands engaging with diverse audiences across backgrounds and geographies create lasting bonds. However, AI’s limitations in cultural context persist, missing the human touch. That’s where our expertise comes in.

We lead the tools to ensure authentic communication, resonating culturally and creating deeper connections. Spotify’s ‘Sound Tour’ campaign in Japan nailed this, providing authentic audio experiences tailored to different locations. By tapping into local traditions, the campaign deeply connected with tourists, elevating their experience through music that harmonized with each location’s cultural significance.

3. Inclusive communication

In branding, inclusivity means creating content that resonates with diverse needs. The objectivity of AI heavily relies on the quality of its training data. When biases get into the data, they can circulate into AI-generated content, making it biased as well. Hence, the involvement of humans overseeing AI tools becomes crucial to produce content that is fair and inclusive for all.

Cereal brand Surreal successful campaign exemplified inclusivity with billboards featuring ‘celebrity’ endorsements from ordinary people who share the same names. This genius idea stemmed from people’s disillusionment with unattainable influencer lifestyles – reportedly, 61% of Britons “cannot relate to influencers”. But they could relate to this.

Amplifying AI’s potential

Exploring AI’s limitations should not overshadow the tremendous potential it holds, especially when guided effectively by human expertise – not just in areas such as large language model-based chatbots, but elsewhere too.

I love this recent Orange campaign which showcases AI doing what AI does best, harnessed by the finest strategic and creative brains. The campaign, supporting female football athletes in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, sheds light on unconscious and uncomfortable biases about women’s football.

By blending the power of AI with the human touch, brands like Orange have found the sweet spot between technology, data-driven efficiency, and emotional connections.

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Where will AI take us next?

The future of AI in branding holds immense potential, yet it remains somewhat uncertain. As we navigate this exciting new territory, several questions arise. Most saliently: What other potential challenges may arise when integrating AI and human creativity to maintain brand authenticity?

If brands don’t win hearts, they can’t thrive (or even survive). But, for those who can embrace technology with a human touch, the future of AI in branding holds immense potential.

Artificial Intelligence Branding Marketing

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1HQ Brand Agency

1HQ is a global brand agency. For over 30 years, 90% of our business has come from people happy to spread the word about their experience working with us, and the...

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