Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sarah Salter: The AI conundrum – balancing consumers’ desire for personalisation with their need for privacy

By Sarah Salter, global head of applied innovation, Wavemaker and NDA’s monthly columnist

My heart sank as I watched the WSJ interview with OpenAI CTO Mira Murati. When asked whether the company’s latest AI video tool Sora was trained on YouTube videos she evaded the question. Instead, she simply replied “Actually I’m not sure”, and then refused to discuss all further questions about the training data. I’d argue that surely maintaining public trust in AI technologies reigns supreme over customisable content. And this also applies to brands.

In the vast digital landscape, the desire for personalised experiences and human connections has intensified. Individuals are no longer satisfied with anonymous interactions; they crave recognition and tailored content from brands that resonate with their unique needs. Research from McKinsey highlights that just over three-quarters of consumers (76 per cent) are displeased when this doesn’t happen.

To gain consumers’ attention AI-powered personalisation has fast become an essential part of most marketer’s toolboxes. It’s being widely used by brands to transform and enhance the customer experience via hyper-personalisation and multi-modal experience.  We’ve built everything from generative AI addressable media to brands’ Large Language Models (LLMs).

As a result, we are seeing the emergence of more meaningful personalisation and greater contextualisation. Cadbury Celebrations #MyBirthdaySong is a prime example – transforming the brand from a seasonal festive player to a year-round gifting option, specifically targeting birthdays. An insight-driven campaign was born out of identifying and understanding diverse consumer behaviours – for birthdays this was the need for personalisation and shareability. 

By tapping into birthday behaviours for both the gifter and the giftee Cadbury’s leveraged cutting-edge technology to generate personalised birthday songs using Generative AI tools and creating bespoke experiences for consumers. The results speak for themselves.

However, a fine line is being drawn in the sand by consumers who are stuck between their desire for personalisation and their concerns surrounding their data privacy. This is not a new issue but has found new relevance with the use of AI in advertising. As a result, the rapid growth of AI-powered martech may be enhancing customer experience, but it is also driving the need for brands to review their current data privacy policies. Beyond this, it’s unearthed the importance of how these policies, and commitments, are being communicated to a brand’s current, and prospective, customer base.

It’s important for brands to understand that it’s not actually the technology – in this case AI – that consumers are questioning – according to iapp research 43 per cent believe that AI can be useful in improving their lives and just over half (54 per cent) are willing to share their anonymized personal data to improve AI products. It’s the way that it’s being used by brands that is weighing heavy on consumers’ minds. Almost two-thirds  (60 per cent) are concerned about how businesses use AI today, and 65 per cent have already lost trust in organisations due to their AI practices.

It doesn’t end there, a study from the Pew Research Center, found that almost a quarter of US adults (73 per cent) have little or no understanding of the laws and regulations that are currently in place to protect their personal information. As a result, consumer confidence across every sector of the economy is being eroded.

All is not lost. It’s clear that businesses have an opportunity to improve the way consumers think about the use of personal data. Those who provide genuine transparency on the specific consumer data they are collecting alongside details on how it will be used, protected, and shared, will be rewarded with loyalty by their customer base.

The simple solution is that brands need to take the lead in establishing corporate data responsibility. A prime example of this is Apple and its ‘Privacy. That’s Apple’ tagline which states ‘Privacy is a fundamental human right. It’s also one of our core values. Which is why we design our products and services to protect it. That’s the kind of innovation we believe in.” By leveraging its commitment to privacy, it alleviates consumer concerns and fosters a sense of trust.

The smart brand can also go one step further by giving consumers more direct control over their personal data and making it anonymous to whatever extent is possible. This simple way of empowering consumers through transparent data practices can help to raise trust.

This often leads to greater data sharing, thus ensuring that brands deliver the hyper-personalisation that resonates with consumers’ needs, maximises their experience and delivers conversion. Now that’s balancing the scales when it comes to the personalisation vs privacy debate.