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Blog / AI: Growth Tool or Gimmick for the Advertising Industry?

AI: Growth Tool or Gimmick for the Advertising Industry?

In the search for “the next big thing”, agencies worldwide have been paying more attention to artificial intelligence. Could AI bring an opportunity for innovation and added-value delivery?

If you look at recent news and industry discussions, artificial intelligence seems to be the advertising industry’s attempt to advance their offering on multiple fronts, from targeting methodologies and iterative optimization to media planning and buying. The underlying questions in many of these discussions are: does it work? Is it viable? And ultimately - should employees be fearful of their roles within the advertising space? The short answers are: it could work (if used properly), it is viable (especially in the long run), and employees definitely shouldn’t be fearful of their jobs. Here are a few reasons why I believe this is the case.

Moving agencies beyond buying and selling ads

The media agency landscape has very much changed course over the past five years, in multiple ways. Brands are asking for more and more control of the media buying element of the digital advertising world, and because of this agencies have had to reshape how they can truly add value for clients. Data and tech teams have grown in size, to be able to work with the incredible volumes of data that exist within the marketplace, as part of an overarching strategy to deliver more value to brands and clients.

Whilst it has been quite some time since just buying and selling ad space was the model of a media agency, more recently there has been an upturn in requirements for a more open approach. Pitches are becoming more difficult, clients more demanding, and consumers more guarded with their privacy. The game has changed, and so the agencies must change with it. We might look at the advertising industry as a flowing stream - if you stay stagnant within the stream, you will eventually be swept away with it. The process can only evolve if the swim upstream begins, and this isn’t easy.

Adverity for agencies

Can you get more value from less data?

GDPR, the scariest acronym in advertising, has been a rather large obstacle in the way of brands and agencies alike, reducing advertising pools and narrowing the market. Brand databases have shrunk right down and whilst in the short term more engagement is prevalent within the newly consenting audiences, the way to attract new customers has become more challenging. Clean and accurate data has become a little more difficult to obtain, meaning new and alternative methods are being explored to provide added value to brands. All of this makes the swim upstream a trickier one. Enter AI.

Whilst the concept of artificial intelligence has been met with the raising of skeptical eyebrows, as there are some elements that need to be explored more deeply to identify what exactly AI can bring to the industry. To see where something such as AI can help, we first have to examine where the pain points are. The largest and most common factor that can be easily identified across any agency is - resource. Whether it’s a Search team, a Social team, a Display team, or an Analytics team, there aren’t always enough people and hours in the day to carry out the best work possible on all fronts.

AI could be the answer to a lack of resource

This relates to teams churning out report after report, just trying to get them out of the door rather than really strategizing on what may be best for a client. Sure, reporting goes a long way in highlighting this, however, as a former member of an Ad Operations and Paid Social team, I fully well know that given more time, much deeper insight could be garnered from even the most basic type of reporting. And it’s not just about obtaining a little more insight. Time could be better spent in areas such as innovation and product development, to ensure that agencies can remain at the forefront of clients’ minds as agents of change.

If you talk to any team, they’ll always say that resources are scarce and their default response to the really fun question of “How’s work?” will be “Busy, but…” to almost justify that after this “busy” period, there will be calm. Unfortunately, that calm never really arrives, and to remedy this some companies have pivoted to provide AI solutions for some of the legwork that exists within the digital advertising space. It is now a question of whether we want to pay attention to the sound of the AI drum or whether we just continue as we are.

Benefits of AI outweigh the initial investment

AI, of course, will not be a “cheap punt” in order to gain real value. The likelihood is that it will indeed require some investment to begin with, as with any new technology. However, an investment into the future of this space is likely to bring benefits aplenty. First and foremost - addressing the resource issue is, without doubt, a quick win. If, for example, an agency would adopt a solution that would automatically deliver campaign alerts and optimization suggestions, such as our own Reveal, then it would free up account teams from having to continually monitor campaign performance, and they could spend more time on value-add projects. 

Secondly, for brands to see that agencies are adopting the cutting-edge technology and taking it on at scale undoubtedly provides both comfort and trust that the best-in-class products and solutions are being utilized for their business. Therein lies the ultimate question: do we want to try harder and provide added value to clients, or do we hope that portions of existing business of agencies don’t just drift away? Staying ahead of the curve has never been more crucial, and AI definitely delivers answers to many questions.

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