In today's data-rich landscape, marketers grapple with extracting actionable insights. AI offers a solution that enables advertisers to optimize communication strategies. Bhaskar Bateja, Head of Strategy for UAE at Memac Ogilvy; Ibrahim Jabri, Business Director for Media at Starcom; and Fabio Medeiros, Head of Strategy across MENA at VMLY&R in an exclusive interview with Communicate explore 'What? How? Where? and When?' of embedding AI in marketing and advertising with real-world case studies.
Welcome to Communicate's first-ever AI Special. Tag along as we speak to marketers, advertisers, ad agency titans, chief marketing maestros, and digital visionaries on all things AI during our September 7 AI Conference. In this episode, we're asking our guest speakers how they would integrate AI within their strategy for clients.
Disruption has always been on the table for those marketers and advertisers who are always looking to walk out of their traditional ways. AI has emerged to become one such disruptive technology, affecting a diverse range of industries from healthcare to retail, thus, having a direct effect on ad agencies working with clients in these sectors.
Communicate gathered strategists from the MENA region to explore the possibilities, applications, and timing of integrating AI and machine learning technologies into the workflows of advertisers and brands. Here it from Bhaskar Bateja, Head of Strategy for UAE at Memac Ogilvy; Ibrahim Jabri, Business Director for Media at Starcom; and Fabio Medeiros, Head of Strategy across MENA at VMLY&R.
The What & How?
The use of AI in building strategy is no longer preliminary and is now a part of the process. “It’s become standard practice for strategists working on performance marketing campaigns but it’s still penetrating into other facets of marketing,” Jabri said.
Latest research by McKinsey and Co. found that a fifth of current marketing and sales team functions could be automated. As engagement models continue to evolve, generative AI (tools such as chatbots, ChatGPT, Midjourney) is increasingly impacting three areas: CX, growth, and productivity.
Bateja highlights persistent reservations about the utility of AI in strategy, despite the surrounding noise. "I suggest strategists to start using AI to boost productivity. A lot of 'second brain' tools are available to streamline thoughts and decode emerging patterns. These range from automated note-taking applications for meetings and calls to AI assistants designed to enhance everyday efficiency."
Medeiros regards himself as more of a ‘traditionalist’ in light of this explanation, “At VMLY&R, we use different kinds of AI to gather facts, track relevant information to further understand what kind of data points we should be exploring as a part of a certain project. But, I will say it’s not our main source of knowledge. In spite of its popularity, it won’t be replacing the old ways for now,” he said.
While leveraging AI is critical for brands and businesses today, not only can it be nerve-wracking but also brutally intimidating to delve into. “The first thing is to get comfortable with the fact that AI is a means to an end – a tool that can help us enhance our strategic & creative output. AI on its own cannot make someone a better strategist, creative, or a marketer,” said Bateja.
“The world of AI has quickly become complex, confusing & overwhelming. I’d suggest starting with two things. One, a broad understanding of how AI can help in your respective domain, and second, a bit of introspection to have an answer to ‘Why’ do I want to use AI?
This will help navigate the complexity and find the right tools that can enhance your strategic or creative output. You might end up not liking any of the available tools and that is completely fine too!
Acknowledging the significance of AI in the current business scene is one thing, but delving into its practical applications can seem overwhelming. Bateja offers guidance, "The world of AI has quickly become complex and confusing. I recommend starting with two fundamental steps. First, develop an understanding of how AI can be advantageous within your specific field. Second, answer the question 'Why' do you want to utilize AI? This approach will help navigate through the intricacies and choose appropriate tools capable of enriching your strategic or creative output.”
When asked about the tools that strategists can begin working with, Jabri recommended a few that he has tried and tested.
The Where & When?
All the above tools and applications justify how AI coupled with company-specific data can provide marketers with valuable consumer insights to capture demand. AI is capable of disrupting the way B2B and B2C businesses transform their marketing and sales strategies.
Sectors in marketing and advertising making the most of this technology include Customer Experience, Performance Marketing, and Omnichannel Marketing (Mckinsey & Co, 2023).
When analyzing these sectors and their integration with AI, we consulted our strategists about the technology's role in the decision-making process. Medeiros clarified how AI has long been contributing to decision-making, but its significance has only recently gained momentum. "There exists a well-established ecosystem that has been cultivated over the years, comprising algorithms, or what we now refer to simply as AI. This AI assists us in making decisions, be it for insight gathering, concept testing, or assessing responses to specific creative outputs, regardless of the nature of the project at hand. Presently, we can simulate communities using research tools, aiding us in comprehending the validity and resonance of a particular message or brand with the target audience. This utilization is already widespread, and in this aspect, AI's progress in our field is notably advanced."
Adding to Medeiros’ observation, Bateja stresses how this way strategists are able to stay on top of the latest market trends and adapt to any economic, political, and digital changes. “It makes the decision-making more data-driven and well-informed,” he said.
According to the latest data from Gartner, by 2023, it is projected that 30% of companies will employ AI in at least one of their sales processes. This is a sharp increase from the 10% reported in 2018. Furthermore, a study by Deloitte in 2022 revealed that 63% of marketing executives have already implemented AI in some form within their organizations, marking a significant upsurge from the previous year's 48%. This progression explains the timely integration of AI as a critical component in optimizing marketing strategies, enhancing customer engagement, and fostering data-driven decision-making processes, illustrating a clear shift towards a future where AI is indispensable for maintaining an ever-evolving marketing and advertising landscape.
“AI’s power lies in its capability to crunch large amounts of data, recognize recurring patterns, and present near-to-accurate predictions. However, when it comes to human insights, I don’t think AI can help much, for now at least. This is because there is a fundamental difference between how AI works and how we can decode insights. AI’s purview is the things that are expressed, done, apparent, obvious & observable. Human insights are almost the opposite, in a way – they are latent, hidden truths. They are not obvious, they are not patterned behaviors or actions. Insights come from what makes us humans unique – our quirks, irrationality, our cognitive biases, our conditioning, desires, our insecurities, the basic hunger & thirst for something more! I don’t think any AI tool can help us decode these. This happens only when we understand ourselves and the human psyche better,” explained Bateja.
Challenges & Ethical Considerations
All our strategists agreed to have defined regulations for the application of AI before it goes “out of hand.”
“Overusing AI to drive ROI can become addictive and lead us to a future where credibility and the moral compasses are compromised. While businesses are easily becoming short-sighted with the noise around AI, consumers are also becoming very aware of security breaches and the emotional hazards they might be exposed to while making a purchase online. We don’t want to get to a point where AI goes so out of control and has consumers compromising on health and well-being,” said Jabri.
Navigating the regulatory landscape concerning AI is undoubtedly the biggest challenge, however, its elimination does not simplify matters.
The ongoing dispute over Google's decision to eliminate third-party cookies has prompted advertisers and marketers worldwide to reassess their data sources and as advertisers grapple with the adjustment to a cookie-less environment, the primary hurdle, according to Medeiros lies in comprehending the audience. “Intertwining trade relevance with content and establishing message relevance is one challenge we’re battling. Furthermore, emphasizing sincerity, and truthfulness, and fostering genuine dialogue has become increasingly crucial, encouraging the acquisition and utilization of first-party data. This shift away from heavy reliance on external data sources might further compel people to engage more willingly with brands and advertisers, but, this will depend on how the legislations around the use of AI shape globally” he explains.
UK is set to host the world’s first-ever AI Safety Summit on 1st and 2nd November with the objective of deciphering “the risks posed by the frontier of AI and the need for action.” The summit is an initiative aimed at driving international collaboration on pressing issues such as AI bias. Mckinsey’s Sillberg & Manyika addressed the elephant in the room: Will AI’s decisions be less biased than human ones? Or will AI make these problems worse?
"Bias doesn’t exist in AI, bias exists in us humans. AI itself is not inherently biased; rather, it reflects the biases inherent in its human programmers,” said Bateja. “To address AI bias, we must first confront and acknowledge the biases within ourselves, both in our professional and personal spheres. By developing a heightened awareness of our own predispositions, recognizing biases in AI creations becomes a more manageable task. More efforts are shaping the use of AI through the thorough detection of biases within its own programming. It is only a matter of time before these corrective tools become widely accessible," he recommends.
Medeiros, scoping a rather realistic approach said, “AI will destroy the world. It’s going to replace jobs in our industry – no, I don't think that's ever going to happen. I think we're going to carry on doing what we do best as human beings and AI is just going to provide ease of doing that. In my opinion, it’s going to evolve into a symbiotic relationship, and for that the interaction needs to become as candid and real as possible. As human beings, we have billions of data points - our experiences, our careers, and our educational backgrounds. That can’t be dumped into a machine or an algorithm. We're going to carry that with us and we're going to work with AI to go further than we've ever been before and to probably do better than we've ever done before.”