The Hoax: A.I. Killed the Marketing Star

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ReneLeMerle_BLOG.jpgBonfire Head of Marketing, Rene LeMerle, says the inexorable rise of Artificial Intelligence will undoubtedly turn marketing on its head but humans will still play the critical role.

Did you check your social feed today? Chances are there were at least three posts (if not more), about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it’s changing the future as we know it.

Some would argue these sensationalist headlines paint a utopian picture of improved life experiences, unparalleled productivity and significantly enhanced efficiency. But at what price? The collateral damage appears to be jobs.

By 2020 it’s predicted that 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human (Gartner), and more importantly, 40% of Australian jobs won’t exist in the next 10-15 years due to automation (CEDA).

And the AI evolution appears to be taking no prisoners, with most industries affected. And “Marketing” is far from immune.

Machine Learning is infiltrating all aspects of our discipline, both digitally and in its traditional forms. From strategy, through to planning, channel selection, campaign development, execution, management, optimisation, analysis, reporting. Even client management. There appears to be nowhere to hide.

And not even the creatives are safe. Surely a machine can’t ideate unique, imaginative concepts based on a brief. That must be one of the last realms left for us humans. Well not yet. But it’s getting close. Remember the video ad that McCann Japan’s “AI creative director” produced last year.

So, it seems that the real question is: are marketing agency folk really doomed? Resigned to a life of unemployment or desperate career changes, whilst we watch our beloved industry get overrun by machines?

Of course not!

While the headlines paint this picture because it generates readership, and makes for a good dose of futurism fodder, I’m not sure we’re quite that close; and the doom and gloom isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of the immediate future that awaits.

Firstly, let me affirm my passionate support for machine learning and AI. Leveraging that sort of computing power and intelligence, to make sense of that which is simply beyond the capabilities of humans, will undoubtedly improve things on many levels in the marketing field.

And better marketing should equal better consumer experiences, which in turn should translate ultimately to better results for brands.

But will this mean marketers become obsolete? Perhaps those whom refuse to evolve, but that was probably going to happen anyway. As I see it, machine learning algorithms aren’t going to replace key marketing roles. If anything, it will help nurture a new generation of marketing experiences and adapted roles.

We are far from realising the full impact artificial intelligence will have on marketing, but initial signs look exciting. None greater than helping us realise the real value of data in targeted advertising, experiential marketing and product development.

Just look at some of the positives that AI has brought to our marketing industry. Google is investing heavily on its AI driven Rankbrain machine learning system to further enhance its search results.

AI and predictive analytics in our digital advertising now allows us to more accurately focus on key customer segments and better anticipate expected returns on marketing investments.

The AI advancements continue unabated on many fronts. From intelligent chatbots, voice assistants, personalisation, through to content generation and design.

But all these innovations are still being imagined and directed by humans. Although AI is helping to bring these concepts into reality quicker, making them more engaging, and allowing us to analyse them more effectively, marketers still play a key role in this journey.

The human element is still the “je ne sais quoi” of impressive creative. And beyond the creative marketing remit, a human’s analytical, interpretative and optimisation skills are still imperatives of successful campaign management.

Now, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think AI will turn things on its head. From a marketer’s perspective, it will force many of us to evolve, upskilling will focus heavily on data science, and it will eventually force many of us to consider role or career changes.

Not ideal, but remember that it could be worse… Imagine if you were a bean counter.