Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sean Betts: The Marketing Singularity Is Nearer Than You Think

Sean Betts is Chief Product & Technology Officer, Omnicom Media Group UK and NDA’s monthly columnist.

I can still remember my excitement back in 2005 when Ray Kurzweil published his book The Singularity Is Near. I spent weeks pouring through it, having my mind blown by each of the seven chapters in the 652 pages of the original hardback edition. To this day, I don’t think there’s been another book I’ve read that has quite left the same imprint on me in my professional career. Maybe The Cluetrain Manifesto (2009) and Valve’s Handbook for New Employees (2012) run it close, but let’s not go down those rabbit holes!

Whilst Ray Kurzweil covered the potential impact of The Singularity in his book, at the time I had a hard time figuring out what the specific impact of The Singularity would be to marketing, advertising, and my job as a Media Planner at the time. The book predicted incredibly large impacts on genetics, robotics, medicine, the economy, society, and the arts but never got close to my professional world in marketing. The other issue was the timeline presented in the book, with Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity emerging around the year 2045, which seemed far too far away for any practical implications at the time.

That was nearly 20 years ago and we’re now at the midpoint between the publishing of the book and when The Singularity was predicted to arrive. So much progress has been made since then, and with the arrival of generative AI over the last 12 months, I think we’re much better equipped to understand the implications of The Singularity on marketing. I’m also now able to articulate what I believe The Marketing Singularity will look like, when it’s likely to come, and what the practical implications of it will be. Let’s dive in!

What Is The Marketing Singularity?

A simplified definition of Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity is that it’s a point in time when technological growth becomes uncontrollably fast and results in profound, irreversible change to human civilisation. It is primarily associated with artificial intelligence (AI), and it predicts that AI will reach a level where it surpasses human intelligence, leading to an exponential increase in technological development.

The Marketing Singularity is a point in time when innovation and change in marketing accelerates exponentially and results in profound changes to how brands and consumers interact. Driven by rapid developments in generative AI, it will be characterised by the convergence of various aspects of marketing and significant changes to the consumer experience in major marketing channels. The Marketing Singularity will result in traditional marketing models and processes becoming obsolete, marketing performance becoming harder to predict, and marketers needing to become more responsible for their impact on society.

Below are the main features that I believe define The Marketing Singularity:

  1. Exponential Marketing Change – the speed of change in the marketing industry accelerates at an exponential rate.
  2. Marketing Convergence – many aspects of marketing and marketing disciplines converge, leading to huge synergies.
  3. Transformation of the Consumer Experience – how content is consumed in major marketing channels are dramatically transformed.
  4. Marketing Unpredictability and Incomprehensibility – traditional marketing models and processes become obsolete with marketing performance becoming harder to predict.
  5. Ethical and Societal Implications of The Marketing Singularity – marketers are required to be more aware and responsible for the impact they have on society.

In summary, The Marketing Singularity will result in a fundamental shift in the principles and practices of marketing, reshaping it into an even more highly dynamic, complex, and integrated discipline.

The Implications of The Marketing Singularity

The implications of The Marketing Singularity are huge to our industry, and I’d argue that we’re already a long way on the journey towards it.

Exponential Change – We’ve been seeing the speed of change in marketing accelerate exponentially for quite a few years now, but we might not recognise how fast we’re changing yet. This is the trickiest thing about exponential change – it starts off slowly and is incredibly difficult to spot. Marketing organisations need to make sure they are set up to handle this exponential change, which requires both agility and a framework for making quick decisions.

Convergence – As we approach The Marketing Singularity we will see the convergence of different marketing disciplines, driven by generative AI technology. Brand strategy, creative and media practices will need to merge to be able to deliver real-time creation and personalisation of content, something we’ve already started to see glimpses of with dynamic creative optimisation. Synthetic data will drive a convergence of both quantitative and qualitative research, solving one of the biggest insights challenges for marketers.

Transforming Consumer Experience – Generative AI is already having an impact on many of the major marketing channels, but it’s far from done in transforming how content is consumed within them. Generative AI avatars will become a social media entertainment platform, search experiences will be dramatically changed and consumers will be able to create their own episodes of their favourite TV shows.

Unpredictability and Incomprehensibility – As change accelerates, marketing performance will become harder to predict and measure using traditional methods, but synthetic data will give us to the tools to simulate entire markets and pre-test campaigns before they go live.

Ethical and Society Implications – Trust in advertising is at an all time low and we’re already seeing increased scrutiny and higher expectations from regulators, consumers, and customers when it comes to the use of data. I expect this trend to accelerate and diversify in the coming years as we approach The Marketing Singularity, meaning marketers will be more accountable for the data they hold, how it’s collected and used, and their approach to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

When will The Marketing Singularity arrive?

According to McKinsey, most experts now believe that generative AI models will achieve human-level performance across most domains by 2030. In May, OpenAI stated that “within the next ten years, AI systems will exceed expert skill level in most domains, and carry out as much productive activity as one of today’s largest corporations”.

One of the major milestones and inflection points for The Marketing Singularity will be the ability to create personalised content in real-time. Large creative technology companies are aiming for this technology to be widely available in the next 2 to 3 years. It will take time for the marketing industry to make the changes needed to fully adopt this technology, but I believe that those that are able to will see the technology deliver a huge amount of competitive advantage.

We could therefore reach The Marketing Singularity in the next 3-5 years – to put a date on it, let’s say 2028. That’s not much time to make the changes I believe are necessary for most marketing organisations to reap the rewards that will be available to them, leaving a lot of room for new entrants, disruptors, and more agile businesses to take significant market share. It’s going to be an incredibly exciting few years in marketing and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.