In the recent past, there has been a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how machines and robots can transform various industries and sectors, including advertising and marketing. We have seen examples of chatbots and other tools taking over mundane tasks and there are fears that the prediction made by the head of PHD Media back in 2009 about 2013, will now come true, some five years late.
The forecast was that by 2013, agencies, especially media agencies would hire fewer people as robots and machines would automate processes and increase efficiency. However, as with all attempts to predict the future, there is no 100% accuracy. Even with all the hype about AI and machines entering the workforce, how quickly their use will spread is a moot point and something only time will tell.
However, I would rather caution agency owners and marketers to beware of the robots who are already part of the industry. ‘Robots in advertising?’ you ask? Well, having worked in the profession for several years, I’ve come across robots and AI in various forms. Their sinister presence has hindered and crippled global advertising as well as our local industry.
"AI is a VERY broad area within computer science that includes about six to eight very different strands of work. It spans robotics, image recognition, machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition and far more. Nobody agrees on what is and isn't in this.”
One very critical way in which we are ‘robotic’ is in the use of jargon. We have been programmed and continue to program business school students to believe that the use of complicated, fancy terms is a sign of intelligence and competence.
On the contrary, using expressions and phrases that you may or may not know the proper meaning of is a sign of AI.
Perhaps we feel superior when we use words that a layman cannot understand, and bask in our own machine language. Sadly, reality is different; any fruit seller on the street can talk about clutter, segmentation and visibility these days. If you think I’m making this up, go out and experiment. The language of advertising and marketing is no longer a monopoly for industry practitioners. What separates a skilled marketer from an ordinary one is the ability to be clear in his/her communication.
Our industry peers would do well to remember this. Another way we are robotic is when we disseminate information without examining it. Due to the fear of being thought incompetent, we forget to think and analyse.
Let me illustrate my point. For some reason, for the past two or more years, a slide has been doing the rounds at advertising conferences and seminars, especially those related to digital media. This slide explains that several companies have disrupted certain spheres by not owning inventory; that Facebook is the largest source of news but has no news channel, and that Uber is the largest car riding company but owns no cars etc.
To my consternation I have seen this slide presented at every conference and discussion on digital, disruption and related fields. The idea that it represents is viewed as the ultimate explanation about the modern era and disruption. Personally, I got tired of hearing this philosophy after I saw it for maybe the fifth time but it still has its loyalists. People who are at the cutting edge of their field prove their credentials by whipping out this slide and talking about it. That was, until now.
Recently, I came across the source of the slide and was not surprised to find that the message of its author was quite different. It turns out that the person who created the slide was Tom Goodwin; he was not talking about disruption and business but about platforms. At the end of his original slide he stated, “Something interesting is happening." I have the privilege to be connected with him on LinkedIn and he has expressed his dismay that the slide has gone viral (he is not so concerned about people not knowing who originally created the slide) and taken on a life and meaning of its own, which he never intended.
Coming back to AI, Goodwin had another status on LinkedIn worth mentioning: “AI is a VERY broad area within computer science that includes about six to eight very different strands of work. It spans robotics, image recognition, machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition and far more. Nobody agrees on what is and isn't in this.”
Contrary to popular hype, he writes that AI is not a new phenomenon and it is not a monolith, and that some of the supposed ‘new technologies’ have been around for years.
So why is AI now the talk of the town? You might have guessed it: the desire to appear smart and competent.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org