Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Yes AI is ‘taking over’, but what does it mean to real people?

By Simon Akers, CEO of Archmon and NDA columnist

To preface, I am no way an expert in future trends or AI. As experts far greater than I will attest to, beyond the nascent and layman-facing generative AI stuff, there are new deep and sophisticated applications that are only going to get stronger. But I am merely a user who is aware.

However, I do know a bit about how business and marketing work and the process of buying media and tools. Especially the process of assessing new opportunities and trends, when they have legs and when it’s mere bluster. AI is the most credible and feels the most permanent of the recent chronological wankdom which was preceded by the blockchain, Web 3.0, NFTs and of course the ever-present year of mobile, but it’s not without issues.

So this write-up (from my own keys and mind, not powered by ChatGPT), was always going to be exclusively for NDA; having come out of their excellent Foresight event where industry leaders in digital advertising got together to discuss the hot, contentious and at times nebulous topics such as Programmatic, Attention and CTV.

And of course, AI. What are the opportunities? What does the future look like beyond all the conjecture? It was an interesting panel made up of the Head of Innovation from an agency, and a COO of a big family Publisher and Tech Advertising giant. All great points made, and lots of looking into the use cases for practical applications whilst remaining mindful of the pace of change.

But I think we have an issue with AI and that’s the language. Its brand. The smart words we share with each other in our industry bubble.

AI has a serious branding issue

It has a perception issue and the language we use will continually sustain the problem. As mentioned, AI is the one development or ‘innovation’ that is likely the most prominent and real, yet problematically dystopian in its reputation and viewpoint. Since Sci-Fi films of yesteryear, we are moving slowly towards the actualisation of machines being pretty smart. Again I am not an authority to say it is either all roses nor immediate redundancies and ending of the human race. But I do know different people hear AI and it either strikes fear, (sometimes I hear AI and think we’re in the terminator, or the singularity) or occasional excitement, but mostly irritation or apathy. 

It will honestly get boring if we don’t work out how to apply it. Hear me out. With my marketing planner head on, what are we buying, so what, and who does it benefit and why?

CONSUMERS need to feel more comfortable

Firstly, we’re all in the business of ultimately helping humans buy things,, for themselves, others or their organisations. We shouldn’t ever lose sight of this. Whether that is removing fear or increasing its seeming ‘accessibility’ or linguistics, I have many anecdotal examples of people feeling like it is scary, or at best being used the wrong way. Inertia or fear about using AI. Creating a login infers a sense of invasion. Child safety is often cited as a concern. Assumptions that customer service will increase versus the non-progressive reality.  A cursory Google search will validate this with various studies. Meanwhile, I have amusingly used my own parents as a focus group in the past, but even my own Mum said recently on the subject of AI that she wouldn’t trust a chatbot that says anything about AI.

 But beyond that, we need to reconsider the real fear many consumers may have of adoption. We need to remember the language. Tech companies and publishers sell to agencies and advertisers, advertisers then need to sell to the people. The people are buying, who are invariably not VCs.Let’s think in their language.

Speaking of language…

BUSINESSES – want you to get to the point

Business buyers and media planners want to cut through the bullshit.

In agencies, marketing and anything where we are buying inventory, media, ads or enabling tech, we were often educated to get to the so-what. There are so many businesses and websites now . The trendy new suffix for text start-up. AI Driven. Machine Learning. How much of this is for self-actualisation, or to appease VCs who are currently obsessed with it? We get it. But when you are selling it to the buyer, please tell us what the AI is helping to do and how it is making the core thing we want to buy better. How is the problem I need solving going to be solved quicker, easier and hopefully smarter? Otherwise, what is the point right?

Bringing AI to human life with user-friendly language.

For example, going back to the panel. The agency innovation lead spoke of neurodiversity and how looking at generative text AI helps structure presentations and sense-check his work as someone who suffers from dyslexia, As someone with ADHD who is mindful of the neurodiverse workforce and impact, I can attest to this. Ad-hoc glances of ChatGPT remind me of structure, gap fills on certain discipline checklists and reminds me not to waffle about why I’m late to reply because I lost my keys or some such quality.

So not all bad, but why can’t we focus on the output eg Writing Buddy.

Or the ads platform saying they use GPT4 for ads, call it Campaign Picker

Or the publisher helping mums and dads with their parenting. Call it Parent Helper or The Nanny perhaps. 

Probably not the best names I’ve plucked out but you get my drift! Its basic sales and marketing know your audience 101 that seems to get lost amongst the hyperbole.

Bottom line – let’s start thinking and treating AI as the mechanic it is, not the outcome

The outcome is what people want. Quicker, efficient, and better. AI has always been the potential proponent of it. The mechanic. This was always a big part of programmatic’s problem. It is a mechanic cited as a channel and the industry is rightly fighting to sunset the P word for various branding as well as semantic reasons (to more addressable or digital media). Similarly, AI is the heavy lifter so results and outcomes can be driven to be better, easier and more accessible. The privacy-paranoid mother does not want to speak to a Skynet-esque AI engine about her newborn baby’s issues but would be more likely to if it was better human-facing language. Likewise, to businesses, AI is a feature, but it drives a benefit. Don’t deny it just position its contribution rather than its dominance perhaps. What is the benefit, because the benefit is not AI. It could be a hindrance in anything. Calm it down. 
As an old boss said to me early in my career – People care less about the drill, they just want the hole to put up the shelf, to have a nice house!