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AI in advertising: Brand bots and cognitive computers make their pitch

It is billed as the festival of creativity - so why were the meeting rooms and beachfront cafes at last month’s Cannes Lions buzzing with talk of machine learning, probabilistic modelling and blockchain transaction dispersal?


None of these things sound especially creative, but the hand of artificial intelligence is now beginning to touch every industry - and marketing is no different.


In recent years, the world of advertising has seen a wave of new technology tools enter the market, helping to automate the planning, trading and measurement of campaigns.


For many, this tech has reached a saturation point at which it is time to start talking about the fundamental art and craft of marketing again. Nevertheless, AI is entering the business, promising more super-powers. So what is in store?


Solid foundations

Like many AI applications, much of the roll-out depends on the big foundational cloud computing initiatives already put in place by tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, Amazon and Google.


The first of those two are now pitching IBM Watson and Microsoft Cognitive Services, which both support AI, at advertising executives. For example, each is touting their ability to see inside and index video content as a way for buyers to know more about the content they are placing against.


Predictive results

Ad agency group GroupM is already deploying artificial intelligence in Co-Pilot, a initiative inside its Xaxis programmatic platform. Using machine learning, Co-Pilot can predict individual consumer response when they are served ads - specifically, it declares a probability of certain consumer actions as a result.


With machine learning like this in place, brands could soon be able to buy inventory based on the likelihood of it leading to desirable outcomes, or not.


Brand bots

After it was acquired by IBM itself and put into its Watson division, The Weather Company has already been offering advertisers the ability to make “ads” that are actually back-and-forth interactions with chatbots that can channel a brand’s real identity.


But the future will go beyond text chat. At Cannes Lions, the boss of a 3D animation studio told a crowd how, using AI technology, he has injected lifelike, independent personalities and responses into human and animal avatars. The pitch is, one day soon, you may get to have a realistic conversation with the Michelin man or Ronald McDonald. 3D brand bots also may help communicate, with emotion and empathy, millions of data points that may lay behind those digital eyes, or could facilitate sales and support discussions, too.


More automation, better insight

If all that seems a way off, agencies are already implementing more rudimentary AI today. Havas has already switched on artificial intelligence in its demand-side buying platform, Client Trading Solutions.


But, whilst AI can support enhance automation that could reduce the number of human buyers and sellers, just as happened on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange more than a decade ago, many also feel the future will be more symbiotic.


For instance, in Havas’ deployment, the AI running on its platform data supports human operators’ decision-making by suggesting preferred trading strategies.


Industry at a crossroads

Around the world and across all industries, executives are assessing the claims made by AI tech vendors with curiosity.


As their comprehension grows, they will understand that AI is not necessarily a distinct technology that will be separately applied but, rather, a super-power that can augment existing business and technology processes.


In advertising, we are now reaching a fork in the road. Part of the industry, recoiling at perceived opaque practices and the over-technologisation of their business, revert to manual, high-touch transactions.


But another part will continue to embrace all the technology it can lay its hands on, to better target, understand and interact with the consumers of the future.


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