March 31, 2017

AI and the end of advertising

A few months ago, I embarked on a mammoth task of writing a series of six science fiction short stories about artificial intelligence (using the name Christopher Hart to avoid ruining my professional reputation or confusing readers of my non-fiction book The UX of ME). In Brandjack, the third in the series, I tackle a subject closer to home. It’s all about advertising and imagines how AI could end up replacing just about everyone in the agency world – even the creative team.

During my research for the story, I read a lot of interesting articles which give a glimpse of where things are headed. Jason Jercinovic, global head of marketing innovation and global brand director at Havas, is a regular speaker at industry events who talks about the power of Cognitive Intelligence, which he describes as “an output of using cognitive services and technology to understand more insights at an individual or personal level”. In this article in AdAge, he says “There’s a mistaken belief that C.I.’s greatest value to advertising and marketing will be in bringing just efficiency to data and analytics. Traditional CRM or customer insights offer a limited understanding of the customer as a real individual. Cognitive insights demonstrate remarkable value to brand and consumers, as the marketing output is customized to the individual rather than as a member of a persona group or cohort.”

In Brandjack, a fictional company called Cognitising is not only able to predict what each customer will respond to but also uses AI to generate the creative work itself. It’s not so far fetched. Just last year, McCann Group Worldwide launched a competition to see if AI could beat a human creative director in developing a TVC. People were asked to vote which they liked without knowing which one was generated by artificial intelligence. The human won by a very small margin. Below is the AI-generated spot. Read the full story here.

Should agencies be scared? Is it time for creatives to start looking at alternative careers such as writing short scifi stories? If you listen to what companies like Coco-Cola are saying then you might have cause to be worried. In this Adweek article, Mariano Bosaz – the brand’s global senior digital director, says that his long-term vision would see AI being used by his team for everything from creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media.

Bots are the first signs of automation of the consumer-facing brand voice. Programmatic advertising is already playing a major role on the back-end of things. Will Coca-Cola bypass agencies completely 5 years from now?

This interesting article on CNBC covers a lot of ground, showing what’s happening in the advertising industry when it comes to artificial intelligence. Alan Schulman, managing director of brand and creative content marketing for Deloitte Digital, brings up a good point about the human equation. Marketing is about speaking to real people so can AI truly understand how to deliver an emotional message? To quote Schulman, “The promise of what AI will be able to do is to start to knock on the door with emotional words or knock on the door of what will lead to emotional decisions. But at the end of the day, conception or ideation is a human thing. Advertising is such an emotion-based industry. Algorithms don’t feel. People feel.”

Will advertising become “cognitising”? Will Cognitive Intelligence replace human art directors or copywriters? Anything is possible. So just in case, I already registered as my plan B 🙂 It’s yours for $1 million.

If you’re interested in my take on how AI might change advertising, my latest short story Brandjack is free to download from 31 March to 2 April (California time) for Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks. This, and the other short stories (AI-themed science fiction with a twist of humour) are part of a series called OUTMODE. Links to Brandjack can be found on the official Facebook shop. A total of six stories will be published by July. Enjoy (even if it’s a little unsettling)…