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The future role of artificial intelligence in advertising

The future role of artificial intelligence in advertising Jason Alan Snyder

Drones delivering Domino's, augmented reality, the industrial internet, the age of the algorithm, real-time bidding, geo-everything, convergence, and intelligent machines. These ideas and the exponential growth and adoption of technology are no longer the musings of futurists. They are business as usual, and they're here.

Look no further than Ray Kurzweil becoming director of engineering at Google. This is our industry now -- and our destiny. The marketing technology stack of every organization is being shaped accordingly. But what does this mean back at the agency?

It means that very soon, artificial intelligence will make new inroads into advertising. And if you think that's sci-fi, you're behind the curve.

I'll start with a far out idea that's actually not. For about two decades, I have been telling colleagues, clients, students -- and most anybody that would listen -- that machines will one day, in our not-too-distant future, have human rights. To most people this notion has seemed fictional and sometimes terrifying. Today, with the acceleration and exponential growth and adoption of technology this seems more plausible, but still very far out. That said, we tend to become myopic when we live in the exponent.

Every day, everywhere, we see the dance between human and machine intelligence. Perhaps the best current example of this is our relationship with mobile -- it has become delicate, personal, and even emotional. Love, hate, trust, status, and confidence are some of the emotions we project onto our relationships with the intelligent machines we slide into our pockets and purses daily. These little helpers tell us where we are, how to find our way home, connect us to the people and things we love, and assist us in providing for our families and ourselves. These devices are starting to do a better job of anticipating our desires, needs, and our personalities. Machines are fast becoming our most valuable surrogate audience. We need to think about shifting conversations accordingly.

As marketers, we need to start talking to the machines and taking this conversation seriously. As machines reshape the notion of "consumer" in unimaginable ways, are agencies and clients ready for this shift? -- Maybe.

You can prepare yourself by understanding a few main concepts.

What is "intelligence" and what defines "artificial"

Intelligent entities have specific traits that make them so. Things like perception, reason, choice, action, reflection, communication, organization -- as well as the ability to set, achieve, and learn goals.

Algorithms are already the audience

We are spending more and more time in a blend of synthetic and real reality. On some days algorithms can make up 70 percent of the trades on our stock exchanges. We need machines to make sense of the chaos. We create innovative algorithms because we have the data to inform them. The question is no longer how much will we allow the algorithms to take over? Rather, it's when will we realize how much they have already taken over? Words are data. And data is the new development environment.

Think about the evolution of email. Before we receive email it's been processed by a myriad of machine intelligence. SPAM filters, personalization and priority filters, corporate routers, etc. In reality, an email has been read several times by machines before it appears as unread in our Inbox.

Similarly, the word is no longer the defining object in computing. Your mouse isn't busy clicking on hyperlinks any more. The tablet and the smartphone have you touching images. With raging ease we can share these images and with the popularity of social utilities like Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine, these very visual communications are being managed by a similar intelligence.

You're writing for machines -- and have been for some time

Agencies have been forced to learn -- without ever intending to -- how to write for the machines and this is just the beginning. Machines are getting smarter, and we trust them to do more on our behalf. DVRs, SMS, email, calendars, and personal digital assistants are all interacting with algorithms that process messaging for us, while also filtering and parsing out data we don't want to see (if our minds are the club, think of technology as the no-nonsense bouncer). As a function of the pervasiveness of the technology, our preference for information is managed more and more by the machines (and algorithms) that do our bidding.

As marketers, we already comprehend the value of a well-strategized SEM program. Or said another way, if you don't understand the algorithm, you get lost in the sea of data that is "search," which is less about you getting lost, than customers being able to find you. The next logical step is for the algorithms to begin generating original ideas for the machines.

I'm not talking about banner ads, or WordPress or Tumblr sites getting turned out formulaically. I'm talking about "the big idea" (I'm looking at you, Donny Deutsch). This means a new offering of the agency will be the crafting of algorithms -- creating original conversations with artificial intelligence. Readiness on the part of the agencies may vary, and some will naturally shy away from this evolution. Is your agency ready to recruit a group director of algorithms?

So, you've processed all these concepts and how they relate to your world, which brings me to the original question: Are agencies ready? Is your agency ready? Not having a group director of algorithms already on the payroll isn't a sign of certain doom, but there are three simple things you should do today to account for these new realities.

  • The people who think about influencing behavior with algorithms aren't traditionally found in the creative department. But really that's where they need to live. Many organizations are not ready nor are they prepared for this critical idea. 

  • Invite people who are already agents for this change into your agency and allow them to affect change operationally, organizationally, creatively, technologically -- now. Get them involved with the creative ideation early and often. Give them the latitude to influence the work.

  • Measure success through integration. Today, this work isn't going to be immediately billable. It's an investment in your future. But what you will see is the work the agency produces changing in many positive ways including enthusiasm for the work itself and the way clients consider your capabilities.

Just like advertising, you can't spell reality without A.I. There are steps you can take today not only to understand your reality, but to shape your reality for the future.

Jason Alan Snyder is VP, director of technology for North America at Momentum Worldwide.

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Jason Alan Snyder is an inventor, technologist, futurist, marketer and business strategist. In his role as CTO of co-creation agency Momentum Worldwide, Snyder collaborates with creative, strategy, business leadership and production talent to...

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