I am sharing lunch with an ad agency executive working with one of the leading global communications groups. Does she think agency jobs will be threatened by technological developments, I ask?
‘No doubt many people will lose their job,’ she argues, ‘but as an executive strategy planner I am safe and so are all the creatives. There is no way AI, or any other technology can be better at strategy or creative – while very different jobs, both rely on human insights and the ability to connect apparently unrelated points. AI can’t do that. We are not talking about optimization here, we are talking about innovation, differentiation, disruption – breaking new ground rather than looking back to learn from what worked best in the past!’
It sounds like a familiar argument. I am sure I have heard this before. Of course, Richard & Daniel Susskind! They spent 10 years studying eight professions, covering health, education, divinity, law, journalism, management consulting, tax and audit, and architecture, exploring to what degree new technologies will replace jobs. ‘Very often’, they say, ‘after we give talks on our ideas, we are approached by individuals who argue that what we say applies right across the professions except in one field – their own.’ (The Future of the Professions, Richard Susskind & Daniel Susskind, Oxford University Press, 2015)
I get it! We all like to think we are different and have unique capabilities. But do we really? Will we be able to rely on our ‘unique’ experience and expertise to survive – or even prosper – when the technological revolution starts to work its way through workplace after workplace like the grim reaper? The Susskinds are not optimistic. Their conclusion: ‘We expect an ‘incremental transformation’ in the way that we produce and distribute expertise in society. This will lead eventually to a dismantling of the traditional professions.’
So, what is the future of marketing? Will it be business as usual, with technologies simply supporting us humans and making us even more effective and productive? Or will we fall victim to an insidious, creeping incursion of technologies that will learn from us – and then replace us when we have given away everything we have to offer? After all, Artificial Intelligence is doing just that: learn from people until it is ready to replace them…
Is there any evidence that technologies are already making inroads into marketing territory? Indeed, there is! Here are just a few examples to set the scene:
- P. Morgan Chase, trading as Chase Bank, with revenues exceeding $100 billion and a market capitalisation above $300 billion has just ‘appointed’ an AI engine to develop copy across its extensive range of consumer touchpoints. More specifically, Chase has signed a five-year deal with Persado, a company that applies artificial intelligence to marketing creative. Chase says that ads created by Persado’s AI performed better than ads written by humans – in some cases outperforming humans by up to 100%.
- The Guardian ran an article generated by GPT2 (an AI engine) – it wrote its own made-up quotes; structured its own paragraphs; added its own “facts”. The Guardian decided not to publish that piece online, because of the risk of it being taken as real if viewed out of context. Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s robot reporter published 850 articles in 2017 – and I expect this number will have grown a lot since then!
- McCann Japan announced its new robot hire AI-CD in 2016. ‘Artificial intelligence is already being used to create a wide variety of entertainment, including music, movies, and TV drama,’ McCann Japan CEO Yasuyuki Katagi said at the time, ‘So we’re very enthusiastic about the potential of AI-CD β for the future of ad creation.’ A year later ads generated by AI-CD and a human creative director, respectively, were judged in an online competition and the robot got 46% of the votes. Not bad considering AI had only a year to learn – can you imagine a new human hire who performs at that level within a year!
- AI can also compose music. YouTube singing sensation Taryn Southern has constructed an LP composed and produced completely by AI.
- An increasing number of Hollywood studies use AI to churn though vast quantities of data in search of hidden underlying patterns that determine whether their next release will be a flop or a hit. The AI engine digests hundreds of variables in the make-up of the film before it’s even made, then compares the way these variables connect to each other with the equivalent connections in thousands of other films, in an attempt to pin down the precise combination that will maximise its box office takings. Could it be done for advertisements? You bet!
We are at the start of a technological revolution that will affect everybody. Nobody will be safe! And the future of marketing looks very different from what marketing is today. More specifically, there are four trends that, together, will create a perfect storm:
- The technological revolution changing the marketplace in unprecedented ways, rendering much of our experience and data redundant. And when the market changes in dramatic ways, marketing must change too if it wants to continue to be relevant.
- The emergence of technologies that are more effective and efficient in carrying out many of the tasks currently performed by humans – including analytical as well as creative tasks!
- Intermediary technologies that increasingly place themselves between the consumer and the marketer. Today it is the personal assistant consumers can delegate purchase decisions to. But what will it be tomorrow?
- The development of an unprecedented range of, often immersive, technologies that will facilitate new experiences for consumers while presenting marketers with radically new ways of shaping purchasing behaviour.
I will be exploring these challenges over the next few weeks. I will consider current trends and developments, their trajectory, and their likely impact on marketing practices and conventions. I will explain how artificial intelligence works, demonstrating that even today the technology has advanced to a stage where it does not necessarily need humans to learn from. I will show how new segments are emerging and what this means to marketing practice. I will explain why we are terrible at taking early actions when faced with future challenges (something the neuromarketers are very familiar with!). And while I will attempt to address some of the challenges the technological revolution will bring, I will also raise questions I don’t have answers to.
For you the most important question is undoubtedly this: Is there anything I can do to futureproof my career? And even more important: Is there something I should do TODAY? I will deliver some suggestions for your consideration…
If you are interested stay tuned and if you have any relevant experiences, comments or suggestions do let me know (see email below)! Also let me know if you disagree with my assessment – I have the skin of an elephant, so do not hesitate to put me in my place!
I hope you will return next week! Until then have an enjoyable and successful seven days!