24 Oct 2018
Artificial intelligence in advertising: protecting consumers
The debate over whether or not artificial intelligence technology will have a significant impact on the daily lives of the human race is coming to an end.
Talk to anyone in the know, and they’ll all tell you the exact same thing. They’ll tell you that artificial intelligence is an extremely powerful technology with almost limitless potential. They’ll tell you that the applications for this amazing technology are both far-reaching and mind-boggling, and they’ll tell you that we’ve only just barely scratched the surface of what it can do. And, if they’re honest, they’ll probably also tell you that the global artificial intelligence revolution has already begun.
What a time to be alive!
But all is not well in our fledgeling AI utopia. As with any new world-changing technology, artificial intelligence carries with it no small measure of fear, some (but certainly not all) of it justified. Questions about where and how artificial intelligence can be safely and ethically applied in a human-centric world dog its advocates at every turn.
While some such questions can be dismissed out of hand as fearmongering and hysteria, a healthy debate about AI’s ethical implications is certainly one well worth having.
And (surprise!) it appears that this debate’s first battleground will be in the marketing and advertising arena…
Let’s get ethical
Whether you know it or not, artificial intelligence is already playing an important role in the marketing you’re consuming on a daily basis.
All that data that websites and social media platforms have been collecting about you for the past decade or so? It wasn’t collected just for fun. It has become the fuel that makes the marketing and advertising world’s machine learning algorithms run. From hyper-personalized and microtargeted ads on your favorite website to the inexplicably engaging copy in the ads on your Facebook newsfeed, AI has almost certainly had a hand in your most recent interactions with brands online.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The fact is that increased advertising relevance and targeting actually does make the marketing experience better for consumers. In fact, one study found that a full 71% of consumers prefer ads tailored to their personal interests and shopping habits.
However, the line between increased relevance/personalization through AI and creepy, invasive, manipulative use of these strategies through AI is a thin one indeed. The targeting of vulnerable populations and the targeting of negative human emotions to sell more stuff using AI is already happening. As AI technology continues to advance, the dangers that such strategies present to humankind’s collective mental health are apparent. It is only through the adoption of clear ethical guidelines for the use of AI in marketing that these spurious tactics can be curtailed.
Thankfully, a grassroots movement to establish and maintain ethical boundaries for artificial intelligence in advertising is already underway and gaining ground quickly.
Mental health comes first (or at least it should)
Emotions are a key defining aspect of the human experience. While few would question the obvious fact that advertising does (and always has) played off our emotions to a certain extent, artificial intelligence in advertising has the potential to up the ante in this area to an uncomfortable degree.
With vast troves of our personal data at its disposal and the means to sift through it for deep insights into our once private emotional lives, an advertising AI’s exploitation of our emotions may be only a single small logic leap away. While that may sound a bit extreme, it actually makes a lot of sense, if you think like a machine. Unleash a machine with the singular goal of selling more stuff to an audience and it will methodically learn how to do exactly that, completely unencumbered by any sort of imperative to consider the mental health of that audience even for a second. Caretaking the emotions of the people on the other end of each advertising campaign wouldn’t even be an afterthought. How far such an artificial intelligence would go in the quest to accomplish its goal is strictly a measure of the guidelines it is given. Such scenarios can only be mitigated by human intervention.
That’s why some in the advertising and marketing world are calling for a firm commitment from brands and advertisers to put the emotional wellbeing and mental health before short-term advertising ROI goals. It is only through such commitments on a grand scale that audiences can be protected from emotional exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous advertisers with the power of artificial intelligence at their disposal.
A vision for the future of artificial intelligence in advertising
Artificial intelligence in advertising is already a reality. It will be a very important part of how the advertising and marketing game develops over the next decade and beyond. Its power to influence and manipulate consumers and impact their lives may not be widely understood just yet, but it is very real.
Managed safely, with appropriate safeguards in place, and used ethically, AI could make the advertising we all encounter at scale and on a daily basis better. It could help move humankind toward a more relevant, targeted, and less invasive marketing reality, one where we all get more control and more input into how/when/where we are advertised to, and by whom.
As long as brands and advertisers put the emotional wellbeing and mental health of consumers first, and use this incredibly powerful technology safely and ethically, there’s no reason that it can’t make life just a little bit better for us all.