Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

As artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality infuse everyday life, marketers are beginning to worry about what this means for their jobs. Will it really boil down to man versus machine? Or is it time to challenge the idea that AI is capable of doing everything humans can?

According to market research firm WARC's "Toolkit 2017" report, 60% of those interviewed believed AI would be the most important technology of 2018, followed by chatbots and messenger apps.

“AI saves money – after all, it doesn’t need breaks or holidays – and it makes people nervous about the future,” Daren Poole, global head of creative at Kantar’s insights division, said at a recent event hosted by Kantar Millward Brown.

“If, in five to 10 years’ time, computers are able to write and test content, many marketers and creatives will be out of jobs,” he said. However, he believes there will still be space for the human touch.  

Poole said the talents of bots and AI lies in their ability to take consumers through structured routines based on insights that help them to make decisions. They use machine learning to record purchasing decisions so that decisionmaking is faster and easier the next time the consumer needs to make a choice.

In addition, AI provides consumers with personalised recommendations based on previous purchases. Netflix says this particular function has saved the company about $1bn: because subscribers receive content recommendations based on what they have watched previously, they are almost guaranteed to enjoy every recommendation, which means they are unlikely to cancel their subscriptions. Similarly, Amazon bought Kiva Systems in a bid to speed up the click-to-shipment process. It says the acquisition earned the company a 40% return on investment.

Then there are voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa. “In the next few years, it is predicted that one-third of households globally will have voice assistants, which will have significant consequences for branding and marketing,” said Poole. “For example, in many markets Alexa doesn’t shop by brand, which means marketers may have to spend less on brand building and more on search.”

Poole was, however, quick to point out the limits of AI. For a start, it can only carry out tasks it is programmed for. There are further limitations from a creative perspective, so while AI may be great at recognising patterns, it can’t go much further than that.

The big take-out

While there’s no denying the increased presence of AI in our everyday lives, it is not yet a serious rival to human creativity.  

When it comes to creativity AI just doesn’t always get it right. Poole provided numerous examples of (mostly disastrous) attempts by neural networks to achieve particular creative outcomes. In one case, paint samples were fed into the network, which was tasked with coming up with colour and name suggestions.

“While most of the colours were beige in nature, the names were particularly amusing – ‘sindis poop’, ‘ronching blue’ and ‘burble simp’, to name but a few,” Poole said. The same happened with a set of lipsticks, which came out with names such as “sugar beef”, “sex orange” and “bang berry”.

Clearly, there is still a way for AI to go in terms of creativity, which means jobs are probably safe for now.

The magic of creativity and creative people is their ability to understand emotions and to connect with people, said Poole. He noted that one of the main themes at the Cannes Lions this year was purpose. “It’s all about finding the intersection of human insight, product and brand advantage. A brand’s purpose should be authentic, credible, inspiring and relevant on a continuous basis.”

However, while AI may not yet be ready to play in the creative space, he advised marketers to start applying the 70:20:10 principle. “Seventy percent of the budget should be invested in tried and tested methods; 20% in less tried [areas]; and 10% in new ideas.”

This means we still need to think of objectives first. We need good ideas – you can’t have an ad without a good idea and an authentic purpose, Poole said. He suggested working according to the pillars of objective, insight, idea, content and, finally, deployment.

“Start with the work to be done and not the technology,” he said, adding that the tendency has been to focus on mobile or digital-first approaches, when we should rather be putting the brand first and creating ads that make lasting impressions.