Abid Hussain Barlaskar & Deepashree Banerjee
Points of View

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Over to the experts.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is perhaps the biggest of all new technological developments in the advertising world. However, debate continues as to whether this advancement will take over human roles or will it be an obedient 'machine' complementing its creator. Arguments aside, it's a fact that AI is already changing advertising in more ways than one with search, audience targeting, consumer analysis etc. But, is it all good news?

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Rahul Vengalil, founder - WhatClicks

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Rahul Vengalil

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to change the way agencies work. The question of whether it is a boon or bane will depend on how different agency departments look at it.

Agencies need to brace for downsizing due to AI. This will happen primarily in the account planning and media planning/buying departments. AI can use historical data and current data as well as industry data to create robust, objective and accurate plans.

With AI atop owned data and a programmatic setup, the planning and execution would be faster and so would optimisation.

This is an opportunity for agencies to adopt and adapt. The media planning/buying department is already the profitable part. Imagine a scenario wherein a more efficient business can be run with 20-30 per cent fewer people and a lower cost.

Another key impact area would be the ad-ops/optimisation department. The tools can start gathering data from all possible silos and with the right algorithm, create insightful reports. Today, while the team exists, actionable insights do not.

In all cases, clients would definitely be the winners as their investments would be handled more efficiently.

The creative and art department will take time to embrace AI. I recently read that AI created art is being auctioned at Christie's, New York. However, I believe that AI will not be able to truly learn EQ (emotional quotient). I do see some amount of optimisation though. After all, advertising is making 1+1 = anything that the client wants to be by merging creative, media and consumer pulse. Whereas AI is designed to believe 1+1 most likely equals 2.

With AI, we can create personalised communication for millions of consumers. Depending on various factors, individuals can be targeted with personalised messages, providing more efficient broadcasting.

Thus, there are pros and cons. In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons if one looks at it objectively and is interested in running a successful business.

Narayan Devanathan, group executive and strategy officer, Dentsu Branded Agencies, South Asia

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Narayan Devanathan

The world abounds with various dots, i.e. data - information points available to man and machine alike.

Machines, Artificial Intelligence (AI), if you'd like to call them that, are being taught to identify, collect and connect as many dots as possible. Even with the most complex algorithms that take into account all the probabilities of connections, AI can, at best, only operate in the realm of connecting the dots in somewhat linear, probable ways.

This is the limitation of AI and this is why it can never be a threat to human thinking. Because AI is incapable of acts of imagination - in a word, creativity. This is beyond the realm of probabilities because imagination connects dots in as-yet-un thought-of ways.

But pitting AI against humans is the wrong way to go about it. Technology, AI included, is invented to be of service to the human imagination. AI is most useful when used to connect dots that would otherwise be a waste of human time and effort. AI can further help narrow down the scope of exploration to the dots. Connecting the dots is still best left to the imagination; no algorithm can crack that.

So, no, AI is not a threat. It's probably the best servant agencies have at their disposal to aid creativity at this point.

Lubna Khan, strategy consultant

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Lubna Khan

AI is and always will be, incredibly important to creative agencies. One of the core strengths of good agencies is the ability to understand consumer needs and desires, as well as the cultural contexts in which they occur and use that as a springboard for creativity. AI can provide us with a way to find patterns in human data that was previously too fragmented, complex and scaled to use reliably.

We can test the effectiveness of our work, learn from it and make changes in real time. We can enhance the value of the conversations we offer and be present at the right time in consumer journeys. We can develop new products based on preference histories that people themselves share with us. Both the creation and delivery of content can be powered with rich insights that ensure that our communication is welcome.

We must also remember that algorithms are created and their outputs are ultimately understood by humans. So, there will always be a fundamental need for human judgement, intuitive decisions and the unexpectedness of creativity alongside AI for agencies.

Sohil Karia, co-founder, design and technology director - Schbang

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Sohil Karia

Simply put, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer program or a machine to think, learn and act as humans do. AI was developed to use human intelligence to train machines using machine learning and natural language processing algorithms.

Humans are intelligent, however, we have a limit beyond which we cannot perform or increase efficiency. This is where AI comes in. People think that a new technology neutralises the older. It only makes way to improve efficiency and hence, deeper research and stronger collaboration. AI will definitely make a variety of marketing tools more user-friendly while automating many of the manual and mundane tasks. But, this does not mean that jobs are threatened. Today, agencies are able to understand brand and consumer needs far better than before.

Google analytics - programmatic ad buying - chatbots - marketing automation tools are allowing marketers and brands to concentrate more on strategy and creative thinking while machines put together numbers and automate consumer interaction.

Today, AI is far from perfect. Machines only work on the basis of parameters and algorithms that humans define in advance. Human judgment, feedback and constant input remain integral to improving machine learning systems. AI is exciting technology that will probably do a lot of work in the future. Nonetheless, human marketing jobs will probably never be completely redundant. In the future, repetitive work will be taken over by machines, allowing humans to concentrate more on thinking creatively, analysing and networking. And that can only be a good thing.

Rohan Mehta, co-founder and CEO, Social Kinnect

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat or a boon to agency folk?

Rohan Mehta

AI can be a boon in a fast-paced digital environment with lots of decision-making in less time. It is not a threat and cannot replace humans. The human ability to understand target audiences and communicate in a compelling, personalised manner makes them irreplaceable. However, it is not just creativity but also efficiency that makes brands successful. Hence, one can put AI to its best use in making the most of the resources available.

AI ingests a lot of data and draws quantitative conclusions at a scale humans can never do. Marketers and machines excel differently - which means that efforts should be collaborative and not lopsided. With the aid of AI, one can test more ideas and learn more than we could have before.

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