How marketing teams are tackling the AI challenge

How marketing teams are tackling the AI challenge

Nothing has polarised opinion in the marketing and creative industries more than AI adoption.

Usually, when a new technology or innovation arrives, there’s a brief period of disruption or hype, followed by business as usual once new ways of working are integrated into operations. With the rapidly evolving nature of AI, however, we’ll need to get used to the idea that a ‘new normal’ may not happen for some time. Or perhaps the new normal will be about getting comfortable with the ongoing uncertainty this technology creates.

We know the impact of AI will be big but ‘how big?’ seems to be the question nobody can answer. And this unknown can lead to strong feelings and opinions at either end of the spectrum - making AI an a) exciting but b) scary prospect for people in different measures.

But this could be said of any industry - why in the marketing, advertising and creative sectors does this polarisation - the ‘Marmite’ nature of AI, if you like - loom so large?

It can be seen across both brand and agency communications alike - recently, Dove proclaimed that it would not use AI imagery in its advertising. Whereas brands such as Coca-Cola, in conjunction with a recent partnership with Microsoft, have announced deep investment in the technology in a bid to ‘transform’ business functions, including marketing.

It’s also true in the world of marketing agencies with some consultancies proudly talking about how their understanding and use of AI sets them ahead of the pack, while others are overtly eschewing the technology in favour of a focus on areas such as ‘human creativity’ and ‘emotional intelligence’.

Both Dove and Coca-Cola achieved extensive coverage - and general applause - for their AI-related announcements. As some experts note, neither stance is necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it’s about aligning AI use with a brand’s ethos, image and strategic goals.

For example, Dove’s long-standing focus on real beauty and diverse representation led it previously to swear off using Photoshop in its advertising campaigns, so a promise not to use AI images of people can be viewed as a continuation of this. For Coke, on the other hand, with its reputation for innovation and its position in the highly competitive global drinks market, investment in AI makes sense.

With AI adoption in the marketing industry moving forward at what seems like unstoppable speed however, for the majority of brands and agencies, it’s not a matter of if they will integrate it into their businesses and campaigns, but only a matter of how. AI is fast becoming a necessity to keep pace with competitors and rapidly update business offerings.

Which leaves the question of whether those businesses that have promised never to use the tech may find themselves facing criticism if the need to row back on their word becomes unavoidable down the line. After all, Dove is owned by Unilever, a multinational powerhouse, which of course is actively using AI across many of its brands and wider business.

The polarisation that AI creates within the marketing industry can be witnessed, not only in external campaigns and communications but also exists within marketing and brand teams and functions.

CMOs and agency leaders, for example, may be excited about AI’s potential to rapidly accelerate business productivity, growth and ROI, whereas creatives may be feeling more conflicted. Along with understandable concerns about job losses and redundancies, there are also fears around the over-reliance on technology leading to potentially homogenised work - the ‘death’ of creativity if you like.

AI is no doubt here to stay but so are the high hopes and fears that accompany it. To make it work, the best practitioners will need to be switched on and understanding toward the strong feelings it provokes across the board: for brands, agencies, audiences and the teams working hard behind the scenes to bring campaigns and activations to life.

Just as diverse types of people, with different ways of thinking - introverts and extroverts, neurotypical and neurodivergent minds, for example - have learnt to work side by side to the benefit, rather than the detriment, of the industry and its creative output, so too can those who strongly believe in the benefits of AI, alongside those who are more sceptical.

Fundamental to getting this balance right will be a highly empathetic and open-minded approach - tapping into our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and listen to their thoughts, to work towards a common goal. In other words, to integrate this innovative technology successfully within the marketing and creative industries, we will need to leverage our most human strengths.

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