'Don't Believe the Hype'—so says the famous Public Enemy song. But it seems adland is not paying attention.
2022 was the year of all things metaverse. From Mark Zuckerberg to countless luxury brands to fashion designers, artists and more, everyone scurried to the newfound Web3 sphere to create their own avatars. But alas, the bubble soon burst and the AI revolution was ushered in.
Enter ChatGPT. The now omnipresent tool came rapidly and wasted little time in going mainstream. As anticipated, the industry jumped at the opportunity to unpack its emergence—be it through immediate creative adaption or cautiously observational skepticism. Google's CEO even compared
AI to the invention of electricity in its transformational impact.
So, did we jump the gun? Only time will tell. But judging by the 2024 trend reports so far, you wouldn't be remiss in thinking AI was a form of silver bullet, designed to solve all and every one of adland's problems. Optimist or pessimist—whichever side of the fence you sit when it comes to AI— the question remains: Should marketers always be looking at technology to solve challenges, as is increasingly becoming the case?
"We must not forget that many of the best ideas in the world have been bred purely from human talent," says Adam Harriden, group executive creative director for the INVNT Group APAC. "Instead of looking for AI to solve all marketing challenges, we should look at training our teams and our people to use it as a tool that is a co-pilot to human talent and innovation."
Tempting as it is to believe the ongoing interest around AI, as well the pressure to appear to be keeping up with new technologies in order to not be left behind, it's easy to be blindsided. But, as the hype begins to dissipate, one thing is becoming clearer: AI does have its drawbacks and it's certainly not a one-stop solution. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said
that artificial intelligence is set to affect nearly 40% of all jobs—around 60% in advanced economies—and will worsen inequality. That's a bleak outlook. And just like with Open AI's leadership saga
last November (an irrefutable mess), you wouldn't be remiss to ponder if this new evolution in tech is likely to bring more problems than it is solutions.
"One does need to acknowledge and accept that Gen AI, as a result of it being generative in nature, has taken a quantum leap in being able to generate solutions to many marketing challenges," says Prakash Kamdar, CEO, clients & solutions, Southeast Asia, Dentsu. "The future of solving complex business and societal challenges will lie in the combined power of human imagination and ingenuity as well as technologies such as AI."
Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO India, believes the most important technology that marketers need today is emotional Intelligence.
"A judicious mix of deep listening, radical empathy and an intuitive understanding of consumers and society will help marketers ask AI the right questions," says Paul. "The more nuanced and sensitive the questions, the more useful AI will be."
With a new year comes a new headache for OpenAI (the creators of ChatGPT) and their backers, Microsoft. In another blow for the Silicon Valley-based AI research giant, the New York Times is suing them for copyright infringement. The Times filed
a complaint in the Southern District of New York U.S. District Court that seeks to hold Microsoft and OpenAI accountable for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’ uniquely valuable works.”
It's a high profile addition to the already growing number of lawsuits
filed against OpenAI, including by the likes of well-known authors such as John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders, Jodi Picoult and "Game of Thrones" novelist George R.R. Martin—who have sued OpenAI at least three times since its public launch. They've done so over the purported use of their copyrighted works in the chatbot's training which produces text in response to users’ prompts.
So, should the examples set by the publishing industry and media outlets above, serve as a warning signal to other industries to exercise a healthy amount of caution before diving into AI?
"For me personally, I feel like we did dive in quickly before clear regulations were put in place, and as a result lawsuits and legal implications have immersed," says Harriden. "As a creative, it’s so important that our creative ownership and ideas are protected, so although AI has been an incredible tool which we’ve co-piloted to bring to life transformative ideas, the water is still cold and I’ll be treading with caution."
Harriden isn't alone in this belief.
"It [the New York Times lawsuit] is certainly a pivotal moment for the industry. It also underlies the importance of brands having an AI policy to ensure they are compliant," says Jessica Davey, SVP client service APAC, MediaMonks.
Olivier Laude, chief technology officer at Think HQ, says the rapid mass adoption of generative AI has precipitated a much faster need for regulation, whether that might be the need for a copyright law or tackling a much bigger concern of assessing the risk to humans in the longer term.
"I don't think marketers should ignore generative AI as a tool while the regulation is catching up," says Laude. "But I do believe they should assess carefully how to best utilise the tool for the challenges they are aiming to solve and understand the risks that come with it."
Try human solutions before considering technological ones?
With each new technological advancement comes the rhetoric from the big tech industry about it being "progress" and "transformative." But it's also no secret that most people today spend more time with their smart phone devices than anyone else. Are we, by default, becoming too reliant on technology for solutions and overlooking human ones?
"As someone who grew up profoundly traumatised by the original Terminator movie, I completely understand the concerns around AI (and eventual global robot rebellion)," says Davey.
"However, a technological solution isn’t mutually exclusive from a human one. Our approach to AI isn’t focused on prompting interfaces, but rather how we can use AI to build workflows that improve the way humans and machines, and by extension various members of a team, can collaborate in more efficient ways. So for us, strategic implementation of AI is a human solution, because it not only helps expand the creative possibilities for our creatives but also helps them connect across smoother workstreams."
While it's easy to talk about striking a balance between humans and machines, how easy is it to pull it off in practice?
"Technology is a powerful ally for marketers, but it is only one piece of the puzzle—a comprehensive understanding of customer emotions and motivations requires the human touch and empathy that technology alone cannot provide," says Ben Farrar, head of paid media, Jaywing. "Algorithms can crunch numbers, identify trends, and predict behaviour, but there are invisible threads that bind a customer to a brand, that algorithms can't grasp. For that, we need to delve deeper, gather stories, and understand the contexts that shape customer decisions."
Getting back to customers in the real world
In such a techno-centric era, it can be easy for marketers to get swept away by innovation, leaving a concern about losing touch with real-world customer understanding.
"There is 100% this risk, especially when we begin to rely on AI tools as the be-all-end-all solution," says Harriden. "Technology can’t yet step into the mindset of a child, or someone suffering from dementia. Human emotions are driven via our sensory experiences that come from within each of us—technology won’t be able to be rational at this kind of level. At the end of the day, machines work for humans and human authenticity will never die."
Technology has advanced to the point where marketers can now more effectively comprehend and respond to real-world consumer intent and behaviours at scale. This allows marketers to engage with customers in more meaningful and customised ways than ever before at scale.
"The marketers who will win, however, are the ones who are also willing to put in the hard yards to connect with customers in the real world as well," says Kamdar. "This is because humans have a tendency to surprise, and human observation and interaction leads to insight, which leads to strategy, ideas, execution, and analysis. This process is meant to work in an infinite feedback loop to achieve optimal impact. Technology can and should be involved in various stages of this process, however, it’s about finding the right balance of human and machine, not one versus the other."