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Has advertising finally begun to embrace AI?

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MUMBAI: Artificial intelligence (AI), a tool that uses logic to mimic the human brain, has been the buzzword in the advertising industry for quite some time now. 

AI was founded as an academic discipline in the year 1956, and in the years since, the technology has experienced several waves of optimism, followed by disappointment and the loss of funding (known as an AI winter), thereafter by new approaches and success.

People often tend to use the term AI interchangeably with machine learning (ML), but they are completely different tools. While AI is the broad concept of teaching machines with data to do things in an efficient way, ML is the technique of using algorithms to process data, learn from insights and make predictions that train AI. As Wunderman AI’s global leader Robbee Minicola rightly says, “You can have machine learning without AI, but you can’t have AI without machine learning.”

With the implementation of AI in advertising and marketing, brands can discover the price at which networks are willing to pay for an impression and identify the optimum times of data to serve an ad for target consumers.

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AI’s potential for improving campaign effectiveness is only just being unearthed with a limited understanding of impact. AI-driven elements like image and voice recognition on smartphones, algorithm-based viewing suggestions for Netflix and Google’s real language analysis in search are now gaining mainstream status. It is believed that AI will soon become indispensable in advertising. 

The concept of ‘technological singularity’, in which machines become better at developing themselves, is a reality but human intervention will always be required. Isobar executive vice president Gopa Kumar doesn’t believe in giving everything to automation and AI as it is an indispensable part of the future media ecosystem.

According to Adobe’s 2018 Digital Trends report, top-performing companies globally are more than twice as likely to be using AI for marketing (28 per cent vs 12 per cent). The report also found that less than one in five global respondents said their companies are pushing forward with AI and nearly half of respondents said their organisation has inconsistent integration between technologies.

Although advanced and matured markets like the US, UK, China and Japan have been early adopters of the technology, India is catching up at a fast pace because of its risk-taking ability. Programmatic platforms and advertising are the first kind of AI intervention in advertising and is increasingly becoming more and more pervasive. 

It is still early days for AI in India as compared to the western world in understanding and implanting these technologies. Havas Media Group India MD Mohit Joshi believes that the adoption of technologies is already happening, however, reaching the US level of adoption will require the clients to be equally convinced and more importantly give them some 'use case' success stories. 

Programmatic advertising will contribute to more than 60 per cent of advertising in the next two years in India which is the currently world average.

Isobar India EVP Gopa Kumar thinks that AI in India is still at a very nascent stage and in media it is just being initiated. He adds that though it will take a while to be the prime choice, but once it does, its adoption will be widespread and then the usage of AI in advertising will be across platforms and mediums. 

In India, sectors like BFSI, e-commerce and FMCG have been able to make the most of artificial intelligence, big data analysis and machine learning to have better connect with consumers and enhanced consumer experience. But there’s a lot to learn from the daddies like IKEA and Alibaba.

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Since AI is an expensive tool and hiring an agency for it is often expensive, advertisers today are looking at building their own in-house AI capacities. With benefits including improved consumer engagement through personalisation, leaner marketing operations and cost savings on ad serving, the return on investment (RoI) prospects are rather appealing for advertisers. What it does require is a heavy initial investment in hardware and software for data collection and processing and acquiring the right talent.

Dentsu Aegis Network chief data officer Gautam Mehra admits that AI is not a magic sauce and it will not change the brand’s RoI overnight and clients (brands) need to understand their business challenges before they plan on investing in these technologies. “The primary challenge for any advertiser is how do you know which data to go after and how do you bring that data into your warehouse (cloud or physical) and maintain that data warehouse to give data insights. Brands need to trust data and have a data driven culture in the organisation,” he adds. 

Not all advertisers may understand the technicality of AI and the automation of basic data processes and the implementation of integrated analytics. This is precisely where advertising agencies can help their clients, both as trusted advisers and execution partners.

The lack of good media infrastructure is a barrier to better implementation of AI in India. Our challenge is how do we make AI actionable because our other mediums are not evolved enough and we don’t have programmatic OOH or digital OOH except at airports. Mehra asks how do we bring about a real time change in media when our media itself is not programmatic? While India’s radio is still terrestrial, a majority of set-top boxes for television are not trackable and, therefore, there is reliance on BARC data. 

India is still a data-starved market and AI works only on data. Joshi concludes that the biggest challenge for India will be getting the right talent, as we need great data scientists and the best of them ignore the media space.

While India is on its way to becoming AI-ready, some major players including Vodafone, Myntra, Flipkart, HSBC Bank and SBI Bank have started putting in the effort to adopt the technology.

Also Read :

The Glitch to leverage GroupM data to reach rural India

2017 - The year of long-format ads

How iProspect's Vivek Bhargava foresaw a digital future two decades ago

Talent retention is key, says Mindshare’s Prasanth Kumar

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