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AI won’t save the ad industry, but it can redefine marketing

By / / In Best practice /
Advertisers are tripping over themselves to grasp the opportunity that AI and machine learning offer. But do they know what they're doing? Rob Bennett, CEO at rehab, gives his verdict on the future of AI in advertising and how forward-thinking companies are using AI to improve engagement with customers.
AI save ice hockey

The uncomfortable truth is that media agencies and media owners are the main people who benefit from digital advertising, not brands or consumers. It’s obvious that consumers aren’t interested in pushy messaging, yet agencies are continuously trying to work out how AI can help badger more people and line their pockets.

These agencies are missing the potential of AI completely, ignoring its capability to help engage brands and looking at advertising in the wrong way. Leaders in the publishing sector regularly talk about the decline of advertising, I’ve even heard people in the industry refer to advertising as an 80 year blip.

Agencies need to take a step back, and put audiences first when thinking about the implication of AI.

AI is wasted in traditional advertising strategies

AI face recognitionNo one can escape the fact that AI has been increasingly making headlines over the past few years. It’s often heralded as the key to advancing myriad sectors. From a recent study saying AI technology can identify genetic diseases by looking at your face, to the Amazon Go stores, which rely upon sophisticated image recognition software and artificial intelligence to upend the retail experience, AI has proved its ability to revolutionise, already influencing our day-to-day lives – even if we don’t know it.

It is now touching almost every industry, including advertising. But this is the one sector it’s not necessarily ‘saving’. Redeeming and impacting a sector are two very different things.

It’s common knowledge that consumers have had enough of advertising, stating that it’s become obnoxious, intrusive and often irrelevant. People are wary of seeing an advert for a product they have just discussed with a friend suddenly appear on their social feed, and those pesky auto-play adverts that screech out of your phone when you’re on the tube are far from ideal.

Nowadays you can barely read an article without an absurd number of click-throughs and pop-ups filling your screen (those of you who don’t already use an adblocker that is).

Using AI in traditional advertising strategies will be a waste. It needs to be put to better use in order to help and improve how brands connect with their customers, not how well they can hunt you down and retarget you with ever more personalised spam. This can be achieved through improving the customer experience journey and offering more than just an ad to their journey.

The ‘usefulness opportunity’

More forward-thinking brands are focusing on user experience through direct relationships. Think about the one-on-one engagement that’s potentially available through AI technology. It’s a sure-fire tactic to help achieve the best relationships with your customer, whilst also gaining rich data to help inform multiple business decisions.

Instead of constantly pushing irrelevant advertising at people, why not think about how you can connect with the consumer on a more meaningful level? Offer them a service that adds to their life and isn’t focused on selling.

By ignoring this opportunity and treading the same old advertising path, you open yourself up to being blocked by those customers who are quick to opt out of advertising. And considering this year 12.2 million people in the UK were predicted to block ads on a desktop computer, laptop or smartphone, the equivalent of 22% of the internet-using population, a change of tack needs to be taken seriously.

Brands need to be aware and ready to make a change.

It’s clear people just don’t have time for repetitive ads. We’ve fast become an impatient society when it comes to having to sit through advertising content we don’t want. Consumers can and will switch off. Brands need to do more. They need to stand out from the crowd and rise above the disorder of bad ads.

Advertising has been considered one of the most inefficient’ industries in the world for some time now, which isn’t helped by the fact ad fraud is ever-increasing. The Juniper study estimates that $44 billion will be lost to ad fraud by 2022.

Bots are on the up and have the power to miscommunicate messages and intercept them reaching the intended audience. It’s become almost impossible to guarantee impressions of page views, and click throughs are unreliable.

Once you’ve lost the trust of your customer you risk affecting and even losing the relationship forever.

How the best brands are utilising AI for their advertising

AI happy customerThis is where AI can come into play. Brands are quickly realising the potential it holds in offering personalised experiences to customers. For example, Tommy Hilfiger has begun to add AI to its creative process in order to decipher real-time fashion industry trends and customer sentiment around every product and runway image.

When it comes to personalisation, AI can come into its own. It gives the opportunity for the consumer to engage in a more natural way with a brand. But how do you achieve this? Well, create something which mirrors a human experience, as we already know that’s what consumers enjoy and engage with.

If it’s appealing, conversational, convenient and provides some form of utility it’ll keep them hooked. Brands need to avoid being intrusive and instead focuse on delivering meaningful experiences that provide real value.

Take Estée Lauder and Nike, who show this in action through their AI-based voice skill applications. The personalised experiences work to help people achieve a goal without the need to own – or have purchased – one of the branded products, whilst still promoting the brand ethos.

The Estée Lauder Nighttime Expert, assists individuals in improving their night time skincare routine. And similar in its approach, Nike Coach offers consumers advice on how to improve their running technique and train smarter. Finding the right shoes for their needs is a secondary purpose.

Both assistants prove that when you create a useful experience that people want to interact with, you’re rewarded with useful data to be utilised by your brand.

Behaviours like this work towards developing loyal, and most importantly, sustained relationships. You encourage your audience to come back for more and maintain a lasting bond with your brand. This repeat business provides a refreshed attitude towards advertising and relationship marketing.

Service-first engagement

Push-marketing style has the opportunity to transform alongside the acceleration of AI. Instead it can become a service-first engagement experience, without an overt agenda – one that seeks simply to benefit the customer. Brands that work more and more in this way can build relationships that are established and way ahead of their competitors. It’s about keeping consumers interested and educated.

The future of marketing has taken off and brands need to be ready.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.


Image 1 ‘Ice Hockey’ by skeeze from Pixabay

Image 2 ‘Face Recognition’ by teguhjati pras from Pixabay

Image 3 ‘Happy Shopper’ by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay


Rob Bennett
Author: Rob Bennett

Rob Bennett is CEO of rehab, a leading creative technology company that specializes in delivering 1:1 consumer experiences for today’s premium brands. Prior to rehab, Rob worked with Samsung and oversaw the launch of their SmartThings and Connected Home products. He is a passionate advocate for moving marketing beyond the status quo of conventional advertising.

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