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Not if, not when. AI has already changed marketing practice

Various creative images of ketchup bottles
Ketchup to AI

When we began to discuss the idea of an event focusing on AI for the media and marketing community, Chat GPT had just launched, and the internet was flooded with AI-generated selfies and fleshly imagery from Midjourney that could have been straight out of a Cronenberg film.

Today we are navigating an AI arms race between the tech giants; legislators are scrambling to respond to issues of control, privacy and safety; the Turing test is entirely obsolete, and the future envisioned in Spike Jonze’s Her, in which the protagonist develops a deep, interdependent relationship with an AI, is already here (although it may not be evenly distributed..yet).

Perhaps naively, in November we wondered how much interest there would be in the event, and whether we should run it as a more casual pub chat rather than a conference.

At time of writing, we’ve yet to make a formal program announcement and over 10% of the available tickets have been sold.

And perhaps naively, as curator I imagined I had a reasonable grasp on what might be useful and relevant to the industry, and I have revised that notion on a weekly basis ever since.

The conversations I’ve been privileged to have had in developing the program have been extraordinary. Some have been avowedly Luddite in nature. Some fearful. Some wildly optimistic. We have discussed the nature of creativity, art, shifting definitions of intelligence, and what it means to be human. Not, I think you’ll agree, the standard tone of discussions in our industry. It’s liberating; exhilarating.

My own research and thinking over this period have been typified by turmoil. Several millennia ago I studied cyber-utopianism as part of my bachelor's in media, and it has been genuinely confusing to find that an aspect of my degree program was finally relevant to my job. And yet the siren’s call of philosophical catastrophising is hard to resist: the simulation argument; the doomsday hypothesis, algorithmic bias and Roko’s bloody basilisk.

All that said, the perspective I have come to, and the overarching objective of humain | human creativity x AI is to remain grounded in a pragmatism that we believe is justified by the actual adoption of generative and predictive AI. Our role, I believe, is to steer a course between outlining the benefits, and signposting the issues, in equally rational terms.

It’s not a matter of “if” or “when.” AI has already changed the game, from production to planning. Blue chip clients are using AI to replace six-figure production budgets, and smart production companies are using AI to create outcomes that are richer and more inventive at a fraction of the cost.

There is a democratising impact too: complex conceptual ideas can be realised even on tiny budgets, and means that smaller brands now have access to the same tools that established companies with greater resources have. We’ll see a disruption of the consumer landscape as a result.

The benefits of AI-powered media modelling for reducing wastage and honing effectiveness are clear. AI for insight generation; brand bibles as large language models, automation, deep personalisation, content marketing, SEO and SEM: it’s hard to think of a facet of this industry that doesn’t have a function that could be improved upon, sped up or scaled up with AI. The speed with which a campaign can now go to market and be optimised is revolutionary.

Some industry leaders are bullish: AI will take the boring and repetitive tasks and free us up to do more interesting and effective creative work.

Agencies that have relied upon templating and volume to drive revenue won’t survive, and agencies that embrace the new tools and become leaner and more agile will thrive. There’s something a little… inhuman about this perspective, given that the impact will be most keenly felt by staff who have little control over the process, but this is the nature of changing commercial models.

The dimension that will also cease to have relevance in terms of remuneration is time: billable hours in the context of AI will have little meaning, and a move to charging for outcomes seems logical.

If you wanted a solid way to predict who would survive this transformation, I’d put my money on the companies and agencies that are already adopting and trialling AI capabilities.

There is a certain irony to the fact that AI image and video-generating tools have improved so rapidly we now see them as a credible threat to creative jobs - as a direct result of the sheer volume and frequency of creatives using them.

It’s the amount of human usage that has trained and improved the tools at an exponential rate; because millions of creative people have taught the AIs to create better and more accurate outcomes. And of course, because sharing and discussing these outputs is highly visible - it may be that accountants and supply chain managers are also exploring AI tools with similar alacrity, but those stories aren’t quite so media friendly.

It’s already a cliché to say that AI won’t take your job, but someone using AI might. I believe this is less about your skill in prompt generation and more about your mindset, your willingness to learn, play and explore what’s possible, and potentially the freeing up of time from repetitive tasks that can be automated. Some job functions will, without question, cease to exist, but other roles will arise.

The artist Matisse talked about his abiding frustration that he couldn’t ever make the visions he saw in his mind’s eye come to life due to his technical limitations; the restriction of his skills wielding a paintbrush. He would have loved AI.

There are commercial and ethical considerations about the nature of generative AI, and the ownership of the assets used to train these systems. But any art student knows that the process of acquiring skill is rooted in replication. We learn by mimicry. Da Vinci said “he who can copy can create.” Generative AI is a tool to be used with skill and discernment rather than as a replacement for human talent and perspective.

"The immediate problem we face with AI as an industry is less one of killer robots enslaving humans, but rather a problem of alignment. Those responsible for developing AI are not aligned with those commercializing it, who are not aligned with those who may regulate it…let alone the vast majority of those who will be affected by it."

Historically marketers have had an uneasy relationship with our responsibilities to the customer, but my contention is that if we don’t develop our thinking as an industry about the evolving ramifications of AI -and fast - we will be subject to the reactive hammer-fall of future regulation, just as we’re experiencing with data and customer privacy.

These are important conversations to have, needing the contribution of thinkers and leaders from across the media and marketing industry, and we’re honoured to be able to house some of them at humAIn.

HumAIn - Human Creativity x AI - 12th July 2023 - Sydney

12 July 2023

NSW Teachers Federation Auditorium, Surry Hills

Early Bird Expires 17 May 2023


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