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February 13, 2024

As AI takes centre stage, advertising must explore its creative potential

Marketing professionals have a precious opportunity to harness AI in advertising and reach consumers more effectively than ever before.

By Marc Fischli

In the ever-evolving world of digital advertising, AI is no longer confined to the background. From programmatic media buying to SEO optimization, the technology has been instrumental in advertising for some time. With the arrival of generative AI, however, the spotlight moved to bigger, bolder use cases. Mock depictions like the Pope wearing a puffer jacket highlight AI’s ability to instantly produce work that could take a designer days or even weeks to craft.

With almost limitless design iterations at our fingertips, AI’s capabilities have prompted fears advertisers could become overly reliant on artificially generated elements. That may be overstating things. Indeed, as the dust settles in 2024, we are undergoing a period of stability and consolidation in which the time is ripe to calmly assess the true market fit and technological fit of AI within the creative process.

An AI-generated image of an AI advert in a shop window, used to illustrate an article about AI in advertising.
AI had already proven its creative potential across advertising long before the arrival of ChatGPT. (Photo by Shutterstock)

AI as a tool to support the creative process

Historically, the relationship in advertising between creative components, media and data has been a sporadic one. AI now bridges this gap, going beyond traditional A/B testing by analysing past trends and performance and predicting how creative work will resonate with customers.

Dynamic creative has risen in the digital advertising industry over the last few years as a powerful way to improve the performance of display campaigns. With powerful machine learning technology at your fingertips, it ensures ads continuously change according to each shopper’s preferences and browsing history.

Imagine a sunglasses brand targeting holidaygoers. While a beach-themed backdrop works well for those heading to sunnier climes, if a shopper is planning a ski trip, adjusting the creative to display the product on the piste will resonate far more.

Similarly, consider the potential of ‘virtual try-on’ options for apparel brands and retailers, using product catalogue images and AI to create renderings for the customer of how the item fits and appears on them. It feels a little sci-fi now, but those will probably become quite commonplace soon.

AI in advertising isn’t just about creative

Alongside its creative applications, it’s important to keep in mind that AI also underpins addressability in a world without cookies, identifying patterns and similarities in consumer behaviour that may not be immediately apparent. By clustering consumers with similar behaviour together, AI can predict user interests more effectively and anticipate their responses to advertising.

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Of course, the main ingredient here is the data. AI is only ever going to be as good as the data it has access to. With the right privacy-protecting approach to data collection and application, large language models can help marketers achieve better predictive accuracy without compromising consumer privacy. As a result, brands can craft more personalised messaging than ever before, and explore the potential for more interactive advertising experiences.

How this works in a retail environment

Consider a typical shopper journey beginning with an online search about cycling safely during those cold winter nights. AI works across multiple levels to produce results for not only the shopper but also the publisher and retailer, too.

First, AI delivers relevant copy about cycling safely at night in the winter for the shopper, generating sidebar ads for the publisher featuring product recommendations. Behind the scenes, generative AI also contextualises those ads with snowy backdrops. When the shopper moves through to the retailer’s website and engages with a chatbot, they are presented with further product recommendations, sponsored product offers and new brands.

AI links all interactions. It can add value to discovery for the shopper and make them feel safe and dressed for success. Meanwhile, AI-generated content could drive higher advertising value for the publisher and afford retailers new opportunities to introduce novel brands and drive sales.

An AI-generated image of a shop mannequin with a microchip for a head, used to illustrate an article about AI in advertising.
Virtual try-on is one application where AI is proving its creative potential in advertising. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Making ads fun again

The fact is that AI has already proven its credentials as far as the creative process is concerned. Now we must act ethically and in line with regulators to facilitate more powerful, sustainable AI technologies that will open up exciting new possibilities for the industry. After all, at its core, advertising should be fun and something consumers want to see and interact with. The same applies to commerce in general and how we can improve the shopping experience.

Initially, the uptake of AI for more advanced creative processes might only be one or two players who use it to transform the experience for their customers. In time, though, all brands and retailers should be open to the right level of innovation.

Once interactive, AI-powered experiences really begin to land, it’ll be a race to keep up and those who are starting from nothing will likely struggle to keep pace. At some point, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ will start to differentiate. Consequently, anyone who wants to be a player needs to have a strategy ready to play.

Read more: The importance of being earnest about AI regulations

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