Chris Stephenson
Oct 19, 2016

AI, VR, algorithmic filtering: Embrace the coming wave or else

Much of what will take place in the next 30 years is already set in motion. By accepting these trends are inevitable, the industry stands a stronger chance at remaining relevant.

VPA: Shopping will evolve into AIs debating and negotiating amongst each other to fill our fridges, homes and lives with products and experiences.
VPA: Shopping will evolve into AIs debating and negotiating amongst each other to fill our fridges, homes and lives with products and experiences.

There are no experts in AI or VR—nobody knows how this is really done, said author, visionary and Wired founder Kevin Kelly at this year’s Cannes Lions. His point underlines the huge, unearthed opportunities that lie before us.  

Much of what will come to happen in the next 30 years—cheap artificial intelligence, ubiquitous tracking, robots replacing humans—is already in motion and all driven by these technological trends. Kelly explores them in his latest book, The Inevitable, and makes the argument that by understanding and accepting these larger inevitable trends, it’s easier for us to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in way that brings forth maximum benefits. 

It makes sense then, if certain things are predestined, that embracing them is the only way to remain on top of the coming wave of changes.

So what does this mean for advertising and marketing and what steps can we take today to better prepare us for tomorrow? 

‘Cognification’ will be a central force

The role of virtual personal assistants (or VPAs) will become essential to our decision-making—navigating options for us, but also increasingly buying what we need when we need it, eventually without our need to tell them to do so. 

How soon? In October this year, Google will launch Allo, an AI-driven messaging platform (described as a VPA) that will make smart recommendations based on data from across the Google ecosystem.

Once VPAs become ubiquitous, instead of convincing a person to buy, marketers will have to build algorithms that will convince an AI. Shopping will evolve into AIs debating and negotiating among themselves to fill our fridges, homes and lives with products and experiences.

More views on AI in advertising and marketing

This cognification will lead to the breakdown of the current adtech landscape as we know it. The process of tracking people around the internet will be cognified, enabling advertisers to understand the consumer journey with radical clarity. For low-involvement categories this could spell the end of impulse buying, as consumers rely on their personal VPA for recommendations. This would remove the need for much conventional advertising, but create an elevated role for brand building communications to appeal to consumer’s brand preferences as options for their VPAs.

An early example of AI entering the ad world is Weather Co’s AI-driven ad units that people can interact with and ask questions.

So what skills should we equip ourselves with if optimising to the machine will be the greatest determinant of success? Upskilling now in the areas most transferable to AI—such as SEO, PPC and programmatic buying—is key for those on both client and agency side.

In May this year an AI-based search engine marketing code for Lifebuoy was activated that not only allocated its own budget but also assigned assets in anticipation of the search queries.

On the agency side, algorithms will become competent at many of the roles that exist in the industry today, from marketing teams to art directors. Consider McCann Erickson Japan has already pitched an AI creative director against TV writer Mitsuru Kuramoto to create a 30-second ad for Clorets Mint Tab. Kuramoto won—by a hair

Six points for marketers to steer by

  1. Identify what services and interactions along the consumer journey can be seamlessly automated.
  2. Focus on opportunities and moments where AI can give people better options with greater personalisation.
  3. Focus on data that helps you understand your consumer’s real behaviour and what is relevant to your brand. 
  4. Make data more accessible and integrated into everyday decision- making, consumer experiences or by creating utility for your customers. 
  5. Make sure people can seamlessly and immediately purchase your product and service from any interaction or channel they desire. 
  6. Consider what experiences your brand and company are qualified to create or curate and how to merge offline & online experiences.

By Kel Hook, regional head of global clients and integrated growth, PHD Asia-Pacific

These roles won’t be removed from the process entirely, but will instead oversee the algorithms and focus on new opportunities for the business. Whilst inevitable, this won’t lead to the death of strategy and human thinking, merely the next elevation of it—the technology will be an extension of us. 

Radical transformation is indeed inevitable, but with the global AI market predicted to reach a value of US$23.4 billion by 2025, there’s a realm of opportunity which if grasped will ensure marketing has a crucial role in the boardroom.

Experiences as the new economy

The rapid advancement of virtual reality capabilities will give rise to cheap and scalable VR, which will make experiencing the extraordinary commonplace. The presidential debates were streamed in VR on September 26, allowing viewers to join up and have virtual viewing parties anywhere to watch Clinton and Trump fight it out.  

Sectors such as retail and entertainment are expected to drive much of the changes in the application of VR, with more and more potential uses of the tech cropping up every week. Retailers, such as Australia’s Myer, are already creating VR shopping experiences and Kantar Retail is trialling eye-tracking to give real-time information about reactions to signage, displays, products and packaging. 

VR: The real challenge for content creators, retailers and marketers will be bridging the imagination gap.

By combining the analytics from VR with AI, brands can suggest purchases directly to the viewer, with virtual shopping set to become an extension of online shopping and product placement in entertainment taken to the next level.

In travel, Thomas Cook took its first foray into VR with its ‘Try before you fly’ campaign, while in publishing, the FT’s ‘Hidden cities Rio’ work saw huge increases in dwell time. Going forward, the real challenge for content creators, retailers and marketers will be bridging the imagination gap to create customised virtual environments for brands to provide tailored experiences. 

Track and filter

When we think of tracking we tend to think of health and ‘the quantified self’ trend. But soon sensors will be in even the dumbest of objects, acting as their eyes and ears, recording every second of our lives.  

This is an exciting prospect for marketers—with such a bounty of data, the potential for hyper-targeted audiences for brands and products becomes thrillingly sophisticated. Brands can add utility by analysing and identifying patterns and meanings from data for their customers. A toothbrush brand, for example, could track a customer’s brushing habits and offer feedback on how to improve.

Collecting data is the easy part; extracting meaning is where it gets more difficult. And, of course, there’s the thorny issue of privacy.  But as Kelly points out, people say they don’t want to be tracked yet continue to feed the machine with data to reap the rewards: we’re all essentially gamifying our lives. 

Disruptive brand communications in the future will rely on the ability to creatively combine disparate data streams to offer hyper-personalisation and cut through the noise. These ads will be made from linked data streams from unrelated industries. 

A wide open frontier 

AI, VR, ubiquitous measurement and algorithmic filtering are just some of the predestined forces that will shape and transform our lives and our industry. Accepting the inevitability of where we are all heading will enable us to not just survive the future, but thrive within it.

Chris Stephenson is regional head of strategy at PHD Asia-Pacific. This article is based on PHD’s ‘Predestination’ initiative, which looks at how marketers can prepare for the tech trends shaping our future.


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