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Member Article

Is ad-land about to get bitten on the proverbial (again?)

Publicis has just unveiled its €300 million AI ambition. All very inspirational, and yet the advertising industry is at a crossroads, and its journey to this point is a tale of missed opportunities and a belated awakening to the power of data and AI.

My personal journey in advertising echoes this narrative. Starting with big brands like Kellogg’s, Apple, and P&G, I rapidly ascended in the industry, eventually spearheading the media strategy for British Airways and the Oneworld Alliance.

It was in these high-stakes meetings, presenting multi-million-dollar strategies, that the significance of data became apparent. However, it wasn’t just about its presence, but rather its gross underutilisation and the reliance on brand reputation over substantive data analysis. This realisation led me to explore the potential of harnessing data correctly, eventually transitioning out of traditional advertising to focus on this new frontier.

Today, we are witnessing companies like Publicis Groupe making massive investments in AI, such as their intention to build their CoreAI platform. This platform, equipped with trillions of data points, aims to transform tasks that once took weeks into mere seconds. Publicis’ strategic acquisitions have positioned them to potentially outpace their competition in AI integration. But this begs the question: Is ad land too late to the AI party?

The Flawed Legacy of Data in Advertising

Historically, the industry’s approach to data has been flawed. It wasn’t so much the lack of data, but a lack of understanding and seriousness in its application. Agencies and brands often operated on assumptions, gut feelings, and brand prestige. In my early days, I realised that the data we relied on was deeply flawed, a realisation that many in the industry are only now coming to grips with.

The AI Awakening – A Case of Too Little, Too Late?

Publicis’ move, while ambitious, highlights a broader industry trend of playing catch-up. Their investment in AI is commendable, but it also underscores a reactive rather than proactive approach. Other major players like WPP and Havas have been slower, opting to license data rather than own it, further emphasising this lag.

The transition to AI in advertising isn’t just about technology. It’s about a fundamental shift in mindset – from creating based on intuition to creating based on data-driven insights. The industry’s delay in embracing this shift has been costly.

Supercharging Talent or Replacing It?

Publicis’ assertion that AI will supercharge talent rather than replace it is optimistic but requires a careful balancing act. As AI streamlines processes and makes data analysis more efficient, the role of human creativity and strategy will undoubtedly evolve. The industry must ensure that AI becomes a tool for enhancement rather than a substitute for human expertise.

The Future of Advertising in the Age of AI

As we move forward, the integration of AI in advertising is inevitable. The challenge lies in how swiftly and effectively the industry can adapt. For those who have already recognised the potential of AI and data, like Publicis, the future looks bright. But for others, the journey might be fraught with challenges, playing catch-up in an already rapidly evolving digital landscape. The advertising industry’s slow start in the race towards AI utilisation might not be the end of the road, but it certainly has set it back. As someone who left traditional advertising in favour of the deeply unsexy (at the time) data, I see this as a pivotal moment. The industry must embrace this change wholeheartedly, learning from its past oversights to forge a future that is not only technologically advanced but also strategically sound.

Finally, data can no longer just be an afterthought, but the driving force behind every creative and strategic decision.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Beyond, Putting Data to Work Ltd .

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