Like many other industries, the advertising and media worlds are experiencing major disruptions caused by artificial intelligence (AI). While there remain many challenges when it comes to advertising with AI, there are also many benefits to this emerging tool. Using research and data on current trends, we highlight five essential ways AI can harness consumer data, engagement tools, and employee skills to help transform how the advertising world informs and reaches consumers.
When people hear the phrase “artificial intelligence,” consumers and advertisers alike have a variety of reactions to it. Some people envision robots taking over the world, or at least much of the workforce, which means forfeiting some jobs. Some advertisers may picture hackers and disruptors working on fake ads. The reality is that although there are definitely challenges to integrating and working with AI, advertisers are already using it to their advantage and will only continue to further integrate AI applications to more effectively reach a target audience in an increasingly fragmented consumer space. For those advertisers who are still wary of using AI, there are lots of benefits.
In 2019, most people are aware of the controversy surrounding Facebook, when it was discovered the tech company has been sharing user data to allow other companies to target users in very specific ways, often through utilizing AI. We have all seen the ads that pop up in our Instagram feeds for things we were thinking about buying and wondered - “how did they know?”, or gotten emails from Netflix suggesting shows we knew we wanted to watch, but just hadn’t gotten around to doing so. While sometimes this form of advertising can feel invasive, it makes it easier to find products, services, and entertainment tailored to your needs and interests thanks to AI. Facebook’s methods of sharing information with advertisers may be a bit extreme, but it led to the type of advertising that’s becoming more and more common today.
Through analyzing massive, almost inconceivable, amounts of data, AI can track your habits and guess at what you might want to watch, buy, or read. Surveys of media buyers and advertisers show that a majority of marketers are incorporating AI research into their creative planning and marketing strategies; even more are planning to add it into their methods in 2019. The advertising industry is gathering and harnessing user data and then turning that information into smarter ways to reach consumers. The following five areas highlight some of the innovations in the use of AI; most advertisers believe this is only the beginning.
The $100 billion ad industry has always done its best to reach you where you want to be reached, such as advertising clothing in a fashion magazine because they know their target audience is likely reading those magazines. The challenge for advertisers is that consumers have more choices than ever before. Another challenge is that even though breaking down user data means advertisers can make smart, data-driven decisions, the amount of data across different systems can be hard to process. AI technology makes gathering this data and analyzing it for trends more accurate and less expensive than previously seen in advertising, allowing advertisers to more efficiently use this data. AI can also tackle the data across all available platforms to create better marketing analytics.
As finely tuned AI capabilities are further integrated into marketing data collection, the worry that staff will have to become more technically educated, or even that humans could possibly be phased out of the process altogether, isn’t the case. AI technology serves advertisers, saving them time and effort, but it still needs a human eye to decode and apply it to various tasks. The efficiency that AI provides creates more time for creative thought, direct consumer relations, and decision-making that could benefit the entire advertising cycle.
The systemic integration of AI into digital marketing strategies means that consumers may not even realize decisions are being made based on their preferences and usage of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. For example, if you click on and buy clothing shown to you on Instagram, an algorithm very likely chose it. Consumers, while still wary of sharing too much with companies or of big tech being too invasive in their lives, are becoming more comfortable with AI’s ability to learn from them and serve up content that fits their needs.
The greater audience understanding that marketers garner from experience-based self-learning algorithms can help business strategy, marketing choices, and content creation be more tailored, cost-effective, and achieve a better return on investment. Connecting with consumers where they want to be met means consumer response is generally positive, since using these models ensures the content they want is what they get.
These AI capabilities are projected to grow quickly and include futuristic initiatives such as machine vision, the ability to take a photo of a product and have your phone or computer find it for you, and interactive programming, which then changes outcomes based on your known preferences when it comes to the advertisements you see.
The average click-thru rate for advertisements is often so small that it's leading to limited ROI for many advertisers. Consumers respond to personalized advertising for the content of their choice, which means highly targeted ads help consumers get more information about what speaks to them and the response rate is much higher for businesses.
The data analyzed to help advertisers choose where to place their spots can even predict demand or problems in content supply in real time as consumers click on what they want to look at or buy.
Advertisers have learned that context and content are everything. There is even a movement to tie ads and messaging to a particular moment, so companies don’t appear to be ad blind, or not in touch with what is happening at any given time. You wouldn’t want to run a bubbly spot showcasing positive interactions during coverage of a tragic event, for example. Utilizing AI to identify when is or isn’t an appropriate time to run a certain ad can help companies avoid embarrassing situations.
Next Generation Automation
As AI continues to advance, the things we are already growing used to will evolve and add capabilities that once seemed the stuff of science fiction. Speech recognition already means that your Alexa device can order pizza, paper towels, or even play a song like the ones you’ve already listened to; voice commands will continue to be used in more applications. Image recognition and speech-to-text transcription lead to even closer direct consumer relationships across channels and interactive entertainment; these developments are on their way to our daily lives.
Social media is where a lot of innovative technologies first appear and go through consumer tests. Facebook is still the source of most data that advertisers utilize and which then often influences what you see on other social media platforms, such as Instagram. Twitter already crops photos to be most appealing based on eye-tracking, pinpointing where a person will look first. Companies that do the best on social media are those that use data science to analyze and act upon findings to change messaging or products as needed. AI can help with this quickly and cheaply.
Other products already being used, but with increased development and applications, are chatbots and dynamic pricing. Chatbots appear on sites and can handle routine customer questions and issues, dynamic pricing analyses pricing across the web, and make sure a company’s pricing of products is relevant.
Content Curation and Creation
While a real person wrote this article, you’ve probably read one that was written by a computer. Clearly most things still need human oversight, but AI “writers” are growing more intelligent about the pieces they can put together. At Forbes, for example, staff members use Bertie - kind of a “writer’s companion” that studies what a writer most often writes about, how they write, and then makes suggestions about stories, areas of interest, and writing styles.
AI can also suggest headlines based on what works best for SEO purposes. If you’ve ever been drawn in by a headline such as “Top 10 Places to Go on Spring Break,” it may have been written by AI. AI is even used to analyze behavior and see what you might want to do next and make suggestions. Eventually, it’s likely AI will be involved in content creation and immersive content experiences, studying and then suggesting what content viewers are most likely to watch. This direct consumer relationship is possible through the use of AI.
The keys to successful advertising in the AI age are to know your brand, invest in understanding context and content, and then use that targeted content across channels to develop messaging that has a human touch. Because no matter how much data you have, you still need to disrupt the massive amounts of information each consumer interacts with each day to strike a nerve and capture or change behavior in order to draw attention to your product or service.