Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Embracing the Inevitable

Like it or hate it, AI is definitely going to impact ad agencies, writes Afzal Hussain.
Published 05 Jul, 2023 11:21am

We are living in the golden age of AI according to Jeff Bezos. In my view, we have crossed the ‘inflection point’; AI’s transformative impact on our lives has become a reality, in both subtle and obvious ways. An inflection point is the decisive moment that marks the start of a significant change. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, coined the term to underline the importance for business leaders to take action during such times; change has become inevitable and business as usual cannot continue. According to Grove, the lack of an effective strategy in response to such events is likely to lead to failure.

Is AI a force for good or doom for the ad industry?

Whether AI will be a force for good or not depends on what decision makers choose to make of it. AI is more than a set of algorithms. It is a tool whose application lies in the hands of its operators. It can be used to make the world a better place or it can be misused, like any other technology, to compromise privacy and data security, increase bias and discrimination and drive manipulative advertising. It can transform advertising or it can spell misfortune for practitioners who choose to stay behind the curve.

AI has arrived

According to a survey by Epsilon, 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that offers AI personalised experiences. A survey conducted by Accenture found that 91% of consumers are more likely to buy brands that provide personalised offers and recommendations. By leveraging natural language processing (NLP) and image recognition technologies, AI can detect potentially harmful or offensive content, preventing ads from appearing next to inappropriate material. According to a study by Deloitte, 55% of consumers say they are more likely to trust brands that use AI to personalise their content.

Netflix’s Content Recommendation System uses AI-powered recommendation systems to personalise content suggestions for users. By analysing viewing history, preferences and user behaviour, the algorithm provides accurate and relevant recommendations, contributing to a significant increase in user engagement and retention. It is estimated that Netflix’s recommendation system saves the company over one billion dollars annually. Tools such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, Wonder Dynamics and Adobe Firefly can dramatically enhance productivity within ad agencies provided they skill themselves on how to use them.

AI has made its mark in Pakistan as well. AI enhanced user experiences are already used by brands such as Daraz to deliver personalised customer experiences. According to Daraz, their AI-driven recommendation engine has increased conversion rates dramatically. AI powered chatbots are routinely used by brands such as Telenor and JazzCash to enhance customer experiences. AI is also used to enhance sentiment analysis on local platforms to customise the content on their pages based on running social media sentiments.

What AI is and isn’t

Machines become smarter with AI although I don’t think they are quite ready to take over the world Terminator style. Nevertheless, people are concerned about the impact of AI. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 64% of Americans expressed concerns about the potential misuse of personal data collected by AI systems. Let’s also face the reality of AI’s impact on the job market. The World Economic Forum predicts that AI and automation technologies may displace 75 million jobs by 2025. While new roles may emerge, there is a need to upskill and reskill the workforce to adapt to a changing landscape.

I have made my personal efforts to embrace AI for what it can do and to understand its limitations. ChatGPT is one of my favourites. I view it as the dream analyst I have always wanted but could never quite find. A few years ago, I would have offered one or two analysts a handsome sum for such competent work. I will not be making those hires now that ChatGPT has proved to be such a competent worker, delivering results in minutes rather than days. This said, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to strategy formulation or even business writing. Although ChatGPT can write poetry, prose, articles, advertising copy and lyrics, it is not at the level of a skilled human creative, strategist or writer yet. The output lacks the nuance, emotion and texture imbued by a skilled human. Midjourney is another clever tool for creating images and saving time for the skilled creative – although I find that when images are created using tools such as Midjourney, they always leave a sort of Legend of Zelda signature. Irrespective, the current crop of AI tools available is a great way to enhance the output of already skilled human resources and I can see them displacing some junior roles. However, the utility of AI is only as good as the operator. For example, ChatGPT requires a lot of interrogation and fine- tuning of its responses before its analysis is actually useful. I don’t rate it as a strategic writing tool. The same goes for creative AI tools whose output can range from amateurish to brilliant, depending on the skill of the operator.

Use AI as a force for good

Ad agencies will not get to sit this one out. It is the equivalent of an El Nino event. For one group it will be a blessing; for others a source of despair. It will be magical in the hands of skilled operators, and wasteful for the unskilled. Millions of jobs will be created (thousands in Pakistan) and probably the same number will be lost. My advice to ad practitioners is to learn the new craft and use it to extend existing skills. AI is not a substitute for skilled practitioners, rather it complements; it allows the best of us to take our work to the next level.

Embrace AI and make it your augmenter. Don’t wait to become an endangered species.

Afzal Hussain is Managing Director, M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan.