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Will AI destroy marketing? No.


I know Artificial Intelligence has the potential to take over the world because I’ve watched The Matrix and I read the newspapers, which seem to have an AI story most weeks. I also aware of the positives AI can provide: I think the most striking example is the huge increase in the speed, and reduction in cost, of AI-enabled medicine discovery. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen AI in action in something I understand. I’m a rower and, generally speaking, rowing is quite boring to watch: it’s very repetitive, and one crew is normally in front and the other behind. But Henley Royal Regatta always produces some excellent racing, with some of the best crews from around the world competing. And the races are all streamed, with AI-generated subtitles.  

Some of the results were brilliant. Bow often came out as bowel. And cox is typically blanked out to spare our blushes. Given every boat has a bow and a lot of them have a cox, there is plenty of potential for confusion. And that’s before the AI starts trying to tackle club and athlete names. If that’s what AI is capable of in the real world, perhaps we don’t need to worry too much. 

There has also been a lot of talk about AI taking over writing and design, which is of direct interest to me because it could put me out of a job.  

However, I don’t think that will happen, for two reasons.  

Ground-breaking technology has always created this nervousness and new ways of working have always developed. Early nineteenth century workers in England, for example, were so worried about their jobs that they went around destroying machinery in cotton and wool mills. This was not a new idea: Aristotle, all those years ago, thought machines had the potential to remove the need for human labour. 

The industrial revolution did destroy some jobs. John Maynard Keynes later termed it technological unemployment, while also making the point that it was temporary. And the industrial revolution did indeed create a lot more jobs. 

Likewise, when photography was invented in the mid nineteenth century, artists were afraid. In fact, photography has developed as an art-form in its own right, complementing painting and drawing, and of course design.  

That brings me to the second reason. The AI tools that are currently widely available aren’t actually very good. It is certainly true that they compile information quickly. Most of the information it finds is accurate, though some of it is a bit wrong. It provides a decent compilation of the available data but without any meaningful analysis. 

This is an important point. AI can only replicate what is available: it can’t come up with original thought. Try it. Ask it to write an article in the style of your favourite comment writer. It will produce a plausible article in the right style. But you’ll find it’s a bit bland because it won’t say anything original. 

The same is true of design. Ask it to produce a logo and you’ll end up something not particularly linked to your overarching strategy, and that’s stereotypical and run of the mill. 

It is also tempting to be seduced by a sense of perfection, whereas it is our flaws that make humans, and their output, interesting. John Legend sang about perfect imperfections: it takes the quirks of a human mind to come up with original ideas. 

Just like a camera, AI is only as good as the instructions we give it. And writing the instructions is actually developing as an art-form in its own right. 

There is an important caveat here, contained in the word ‘currently’ a couple of paragraphs ago. The technology is developing rapidly.  

One day, there will probably be tools that use the combination of AI and machine learning to take existing data and apply intelligent analysis, writing articles, developing communication strategies and designing entire brand identities. But we are not there yet. 

Charlie Pryor

Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in London

Charlie is an experienced communications consultant who started Leidar UK in 2010. He is responsible for developing and implementing communications strategies for companies and organisations of all sizes and in many different sectors.

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