AI use in marketing is fairly primitive, but not for long

A panel discussion at yesterday's China Innovation Summit focused on the next wave of AI applications, including creative roles.

The use of AI in advertising and marketing represents a paradox, because even though digital marketing is advanced, its application of AI represents the most basic form of the techology.

That's the opinion of Tony Zhou, vice general manager of Leo Digital Network Technology Asgard, speaking at Campaign's China Innovation Summit, held yesterday at People2, an Alibaba-owned co-working space in Shenzhen. Zhou, together with a panel from agency, tech and third-party tracking backgrounds, discussed how AI would transform the industry.

"AI has been useful in programmatic advertising on a bidding system driven by machine-learning algorithms, in fact, machine learning has far surpassed human in click estimations," said Zhou. "But we can all agree that it is a rather rudimentary application of AI, when in fact the technology has been improving."

He shared his vision for wider application of AI in the industry, which includes using AI in developing visual campaigns for creative agencies as well as understanding human intuition through AI. Leo Digital, he said, is developing a database of its graphic creative works and plans to use AI to identify patterns within the work to uncover shortcomings of human-made designs and eventually mass produce graphics. 

Gary Luo, business director with MediaCom Guangzhou, pointed out that the other common applications of AI have been in machine learning for chatbots and predicting consumer behaviour.

"Ideally, AI can be applied on the whole marketing chain, from idea generation to programmatic advertising to improving the consumer experience," said Luo. "What we have been focusing now is more on improving the brand experience for consumers."

Meanwhile, Zhou said the breakthrough that is yet to come would be using AI to understand emotions, namely consumer intuition.

"Until now, we have yet to see a brand that has been sucessful in doing that. We know about certain consumer behaviours, their likes and dislikes through natural language processing, but what we don't know is what motivates them," said Zhou.

He added that brands and agencies who want to embrace AI must be prepared to challenge their own assumptions and biases. "At the end of the day, advertising is the art of persuasions. But you have to think about this, do you want to trust data or your own intuition [to decide what consumers want]."

Can AI replace marketers?

While the panel agreed that AI will not replace the role of marketers in their lifetime, because machines will not overrule human intuition, Luo said the technology will blur the lines between what agencies, platforms and brands do.

"Agencies are looking to shore up their tech capabilities and build our own platforms," he said. "That way, we will also strengthen our database and be less reliant on the tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba for data."

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