Adapt or face extinction: Will AI destroy or enhance the common marketer?

AI is here, and it’s here to stay. Its burgeoning impact on the marketing and advertising industries is already indelible and we’ve only scratched the surface of its true potential.

The technology is set to irrevocably change the face of marketing and advertising over the coming decades, with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman recently predicting that as much as 95% of creative marketing work could soon be carried out by AI.

While this might be a touch fatalistic, AI is undeniably set to change the face of how marketing and advertising is carried out at every conceivable level.

It’s hard to find a consensus at this early stage, but while cataclysmic predictions of an industry-wide doomsday are dismissed by the majority, there is recognition that many tasks currently performed by human staff will inevitably be handed over to AI.

Adapt to AI or face extinction

At the DMA’s 2024 Data Conference, AI was naturally a hot topic. Marketing Beat spoke to a number of experts to uncover their thoughts on how the technology will shape the industry in the years to come.

In general, it was agreed that AI would primarily affect the sector in three ways; through optimisation, augmentation and acceleration.

Publicis’ Jason Smith

Interestingly, despite the seminal ChatGPT only having been unveiled to the world in November 2022, everyone we spoke to – from the DMA, Publicis, Dentsu and Royal London – had been deeply ensconced in the word of generative AI for some time.

All are already actively using generative AI in their day-to-day tasks, with Microsoft’s language learning tool Copilot featuring prominently alongside ChatGPT, and staff actively encouraged to play with these emerging tools in their own time to build organic knowledge.

Publicis Group’s chief digital officer, data and commerce, Jason Smith says the agency network has set up its own internal sandbox for staff to get to grips with the technology. It doesn’t even necessarily relate to client work or output, but playing with the tech is widely encouraged.

“Because it’s still quite early days, our approach is to just try to build familiarity with the tools,” he explains.

There has been a widespread early take-up of generative AI tech within the large international agencies, with many using the tech behind the scenes.

Dentsu’s Azlan Raj

Publicis’ own experience is largely mirrored by Dentsu, as CMO Azlan Raj outlnes: “We’ve had quite a tiered adoption within the organisation. Merkel, our strong data arm, has been using AI for years.

“Then on the flip side, for the day-to-day user, we’ve had something that’s a little bit softer to break them in with the launch of Copilot and other programmes.”

How to bridge the monumental skills gap

Helping staff build familiarity with these tools is key. Not only because they are set to play a pivotal role in creative work for the foreseeable future, but to enable staff to adapt to these changes and maximise their work as a result, instead of being intimidated by it.

The current skills gap is huge. Marketers simply do not have the skillset required to get the best out of these emerging technologies – yet.

But workshops and learning opportunities are being massively upscaled, by both the agencies themselves and industry bodies such as the DMA to furnish employees with the necessary skills to thrive in the AI age.

What will be pivotal, is how soon people are upskilled. Agencies and brand must keep up with this rapidly advancing technology now, or face being left in the dust.

Royal London’s Anneli Ritari-Stewart

This seems to be the consensus, as DMA managing director Rachel Aldighieri says: “We’re seeing that whenever we just put on one course on AI, it’s flooded, literally everyone is hungry for those skills.”

Royal London’s head of digital marketing, Anneli Ritari-Stewart says the industry “needs to start upskilling people now to cope with the pace of change.

“We also need to think about how we unlock the value of AI across the whole organisation. It’s not pure skills, it’s a completely new way of reframing business challenges.”

The rate at which employees become well-versed in the technology will be pivotal, Smith notes.

“If you look at the research around the impact that workers using generative AI have, it’s far greater than those that don’t. So if we don’t upskill people now and start tackling that, we’re going to end up with huge disparities in workforce skills.”

Ritari-Stewart agrees, pointing out that: “If you don’t have the underlying skills, you won’t be able to get the best out of the technology.”

Will Skynet happen?

So, will 95% of creative marketing really be taken over by AI? Unsurprisingly, the consensus was no – although our experts did emphasise that seismic changes are afoot.

While the figure was squarely scoffed at, there was an unquestionable acknowledgment that the way in which the marketing and advertising industries function in the day-to-day will be significantly different in as soon as five years’ time.

The panel hard at work at DMA Data 2024

Aldighieri suggests that much of the mundane drudgery that creatives face as a necessary part of their work could be handled by AI, freeing them up to fully immerse themselves in projects.

“There’s so much mundane work that sits behind the creative process, and yet if some of that is taken up by AI, there’s so much more time to be spent on being creative and more innovative,” she says.

“So hopefully the technology will not necessarily reduce the number of jobs or take them, but will ideally make them better.”

Riteri-Stewart notes that – as with the emergence of any new technology – new opportunities will inevitably occur as a result: “There will be new jobs as AI is so brilliant at supporting the creative and performance process, it will open up a host of new strategic roles.”

These attitudes perhaps encapsulate what the better-prepared players of the sector are currently thinking.

AI is not to be seen as a destroyer of worlds, but rather as builder of new ones. A technology, that if harnessed properly, can open up myriad opportunities for creatives and strategists alike.

The next five years will perhaps be the most innovative in business since the advent of the worldwide web, and only those at the forefront of this wave will truly be able to benefit from it. The industry must start building for the AI age now – and on a massive scale, otherwise it risks being utterly overwhelmed by it.

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