Matthew Keegan
Aug 31, 2023

How advertising agencies are future proofing themselves as AI takes over

Campaign explores to what degree ad agencies are putting in place protections around jobs and inequities that come with automation and the rapid acceleration of AI.

How advertising agencies are future proofing themselves as AI takes over
By this point, you've probably heard it a thousand times... AI will not replace humans, it will instead be a tool that enhances the way we work. By and large, as far as the advertising industry is concerned, there's nothing to fear.
Yet, a recent report by Forrester predicted some 33,000 ad agency jobs, amounting to 7.5% of the total agency workforce, will be replaced by AI in the US alone by 2030. And nearly one-third of the losses, or 11,000 jobs, will be linked to generative AI. 
Meanwhile, back in April, leading Chinese marketing agency group BlueFocus announced it would be replacing “fully and indefinitely” the outsourcing of human copywriters and designers and instead use AI generated content.
Feel the fear and ignore it
So, AI as a threat to human livelihoods – is it all just fearmongering? Or are any of these fears legitimate concerns rooted in an impending reality? 
Perhaps the ad industry has had it too easy thus far; it's not really been decimated by so-called "technological progress" in the same way that industries like the music business, print media, travel agents, bank tellers, supermarket checkout assistants all have been. 
Remember that time before self checkouts when a real human helped you pack your groceries? Those humans manning the checkouts had bills to pay, children to feed – but technology didn't enhance their lives, it replaced their jobs. Many of whom could least afford to lose them. 
But perhaps AI will be the disruptor that will finally disrupt the ad industry and not necessarily in all the good and 'enhancing' ways that so many believe it will. Are industry folk blinded by the need to always appear positive about new technological advancements – progress that perhaps isn't always progress – but no one has the guts to admit it? Does anyone stop to ask, do we really need it?
Is there a need for the ad industry to wake up and get some AI protections in place, akin to what other creative industries are fighting for - i.e. Hollywood – before it's too late? Or is generative AI just this wonderful creative tool that can do no harm? Should agencies be future proofing themselves against potential threats to jobs and guarding against the inequities that automation will likely bring?
"There have been many innovations with which fear has struck our industry – whether it’s the rise of the internet, of social media or of something else – and we’re still here, creating great work that truly works," says Tessa Conrad, head of innovation at TBWA\Asia. "We’re just focused on continuing to raise the ceiling of what’s possible, using AI as an enabler rather than as the solution."
Meanwhile, Richard Brosgill, APAC CEO at Assembly, sees technological advancements such as generative AI as an accelerant for the industry.
"Rather than viewing generative AI as a threat, the best way to future-proof is to embrace it and leverage the tech in a way that enhances our work and helps us provide greater strategic value," says Brosgill. "AI is something that everyone is talking about and keen to experiment with and for us at Assembly, it's technology that will further complement our solutions."
But Laura Roberts, managing director of Invnt Group APAC, is taking a more cautious approach. 
"We are approaching AI with caution, as we should always do with new technologies," says Roberts. "But we don’t see AI as replacements for our jobs at Invnt Group – events that rely heavily on AI-generated creativity run the risk of losing the emotional connection with their attendees, and we as an agency are always striving to transform events into experiences powered by human creativity."
Could AI ad automation turn off advertising agencies?
Last August, Meta introduced their AI advertising tool Advantage+. The solution is driven by AI and can generate 150 ads on its own based on the exact goals of the marketer, doing away with the necessity for human ad creation.
According to reports, Advantage+ has increased the effectiveness of advertising efforts and produced significant profits; clients of the marketing firm iProspect were reportedly making $7 for every $1 invested in website advertising campaigns.
Google is also launching Google AI-powered advertiser features in a push for more automation. Are these the first steps towards rendering ad professionals redundant? Can AI generate ads that can optimise and produce better returns than humans?
"AI automation is a cheaper and more efficient alternative to human labour in ad-generating roles, which is why industry leaders may make the mistake of discounting the human element necessary for brand success," says Stephen Magli, CEO at AI Digital. "Creativity has always been best when art and science come together and this is not any different. The combination of human insights with technology will drive enhanced creativity and the most meaningful output."
Ross Gales, director of design & strategy at Pollen says that with all new technologies there will be a period of transition and whilst some will take short term benefits from automated efficiencies, longer term how we perceive and consume generative content will shift, and it will be human creativity, strategy, and understanding of nuanced cultural contexts that will prevail, areas where AI still falls short. "Those who integrate AI tools with these human skills may find new opportunities rather than redundancy."
Meanwhile, Tim Durgan, VP, strategy & insights, APAC, at Assembly believes that while AI may be able to generate creatives, the ideation is still very much led by human creativity. 
"Something cannot be created from nothing and generative AI is inherently dependent on the brief that we create," says Durgan. "Furthermore, AI doesn’t come with built-in brand safety measures, meaning creative and marketing professionals are still responsible for ensuring that AI-generated creatives properly represent brands, with the right style, imagery, and tone of voice."
When it comes to specific AI ad creation tools like Meta's Advantage+, some are taking a more wait and see approach.
"When there is proven historical data on hand within this tool to help improve the financial performance of campaigns and achieve client objectives, we’ll approach the use of this AI product just as we would with any others – to ask how it can support our work, but not use it as a replacement or supplement for our human-driven creative thinking," says INVNT's Roberts. 
Where's the pushback?
Unlike other creative industries (writers’ / actors strikes in the US), there has been very little pushback in the advertising world when it comes to AI. We’ve heard many industry people touting the potential benefits of generative AI, but what about the disadvantages? 
"Apart from the lack of a strong advertising union like that of the writers' and screen actors' unions in Hollywood, I think we’re generally excited and inquisitive of the possibilities these new tools can bring and the perceived benefits of efficiency, targeting accuracy, and cost reduction," says Gales. "I personally see AI as a new tool rather than a replacement for human creativity."
Others like Brosgill at Assembly believe that because AI has been embedded in the ad industry for quite sometime, it's not exactly a new or dramatic change and people have had more time to adapt.
"From a media perspective, AI and automation have always been deeply embedded within our industry, with the likes of Meta, Google and other platforms already having incorporated this tech into their solutions," says Brosgill. It’s seen as more of an evolution of the algorithm, rather than something completely new."
Meanwhile, Conrad at TBWA Asia feels the industry is watching how these battles (Hollywood strikes) play out, because they will have an impact – and we’ll take our initial cues on what’s next for us, from that. "Right now, it’s not a huge concern for us as AI is not creating top-tier creative work that breaks through – and is IP protected."
Too late to future-proof against AI?
AI has been likened to the creation of fire, of electricity, of the internet – this is something most industries don’t go through often. The rate of acceleration with AI is particularly quick, and it's spreading just like wild fire, whether that's a good thing or not. But should the advertising industry just roll over and accept it, or should it be fighting for more protections? 
"There is a need to protect the jobs of creatives within the industry – it’s important to upskill human labour rather than replace, in order to maintain human control and uphold responsible AI use within the industry, as well as all industries," says Roberts. 
To that end, INVNT's global operations team is rolling out a formal AI policy, and the agency has an official “Dos and Don’ts” list to ensure privacy and security measures are put in place. 
"As well as the established security policies, the main gist of this list is “enhance, don’t replace – and always ask for sources”. We’re using AI to make our jobs easier and efficient, however not replace human intelligence and creativity," says Roberts.
Gales of Pollen doesn't believe that fighting against AI is the right approach. 
"I’m more concerned that we implement some form of governance to avoid issues such as bias, misuse, and negative social impacts," says gales. "Collaborative efforts between industry stakeholders, regulators, and the technology developers themselves to establish guidelines, ethical standards, and continuous learning opportunities could be vital in future-proofing the industry." 
And while generative AI used across the board may lead to more automation, cost cuttings, job cuts – some are adamant that the need for humans to uphold the quality and integrity of the work created will remain.
“A lot of advertising today is focused on building authentic connections with audiences. This relies on genuine human thinking and communication – creating experiences for people, by people," says Assembly's Durgan. "We believe in automation with a human touch. It is this unique combination that will bring new ideas and innovations that will transform the industry and move it forward."
Campaign Asia

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