AI Will Restore Digital Advertising’s Soul | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

AI Will Restore Digital Advertising’s Soul

By Justin Choi

The exponential growth in AI capabilities that's underway right now is going to fundamentally alter every industry on the planet — and, indeed, our very humanity. But as a marketer, you're tired of hearing these grandiose statements. What you need to know, after all, is what AI means for your organization and the ad industry at large — today and in the near future.

The answer to that question is, I'll admit, still grandiose. But it's also practical, tactical, and happening beneath our very noses today. And the timing couldn't be better. As the final death knell of third-party cookies approaches and ongoing privacy shifts limit the amount of data available for targeting, marketers are going to be forced to relinquish a lot of legacy notions around "how we've always done things." And we should all be thankful.

Let's talk about what it looks like when yesterday's data-targeting obsession (finally) gives way to true creative personalization.

The Long-Standing Myth of Data-Driven Personalization

Today, we as online consumers are constantly prompted to offer up our personal data and preferences in exchange for more-relevant, personalized ad experiences. It's a nice thought. Unfortunately, it's also typically a complete lie.

For the past decade-plus, when users have opted into data tracking (or, in many cases, been opted-in by default), they haven't been the recipients of more-relevant, personalized ad experiences. They've been the recipients of aggressive, repetitive, and often-relentless ad targeting. Even in instances where an ad might have been relevant, it was likely the same ad over and over again — and a notably poor user experience.

Today, that's the myth of advertising that no one believes: advertisers want your data to make advertising relevant to you. In reality, advertisers want your data to be able to efficiently find you with the same generic message that they use when targeting people in a "more likely to buy" cohort.

These tactics aren't malicious. They're simply built around what's historically been possible. The reality is that for the past 10 years, data has been easy to buy and apply at scale. That hasn't been the case with creative assets. While the concept of ad personalization is alluring, tailoring a message to be truly relevant to you as an individual was simply not possible for an advertiser looking for meaningful scale. It was too much work to obtain assets, write different ad copy and headlines, and ultimately personalize a message to what the data revealed about you.

AI Unlocks Better Ad Experiences

For most of its history, digital advertising hasn't been about effective or memorable ads. It's been about using personal data to target people. This targeting has been a crutch, something for advertisers to optimize and tweak — and it's done our industry a significant disservice. When, after all, is the last time you remembered a banner ad you saw? Or a video ad you encountered on a page you were scrolling? If you're like most online consumers, you might be drawing a blank — and that's because digital advertising wasn't built on a foundation of strong ad experiences.

Most digital advertising over the past decade-plus has been dysfunction masquerading as efficiency. The promise of ad personalization has gone unfulfilled because the labor and costs to deliver on that promise have been too great.

Now, with the rise of new AI capabilities, this is finally changing. The need for personally identifiable data is being replaced by the ability to do more with fewer and less-invasive data signals, and the manual work required to creatively iterate ads on those signals will be vanishing.

AI is here to help you treat your targets like customers again. And business leaders are here for it.

Recent McKinsey research found that 90 percent of business leaders expect to use generative AI solutions "often" over the next two years. Importantly, those that are investing in AI are already seeing a revenue uplift of three to 15 percent and a sales ROI uplift of 10 to 20 percent.

It's only going to get better.

Top use cases for generative AI right now include lead identification, marketing optimization, personalized outreach, and dynamic content. That final category is poised to explode with new potential, and marketers can prepare themselves today by actively investigating (and investing in) emerging tools that leverage AI to personalize ad creative. But they shouldn't stop at creative. Emerging AI capabilities are going to bestow this level of personalization to all brand content — videos, images, articles and more. Marketers need to embrace these technologies early out of the gate rather than waiting until late in the adoption curve.

Rather than a relentless pursuit to chase you, ads will soon be on a relentless pursuit to connect with you. AI enables us to shift the focus from greater data harvesting to greater creativity — bringing us full circle to what was at the heart of advertising all along and what makes it such a great industry in the first place.

While advertisers will still use data to inform and target their campaigns, the untapped potential on the creative side of our industry is going to bridge the gap when it comes to efficacy, memorability, and ultimate performance.

More importantly, AI creative personalization tools will be able to reflect the true diversity of today's online users, rather than marketer-generated stereotypes that have never mapped to reality or gone far enough in terms of inclusiveness. With the rise of data targeting capabilities, advertising lost its soul. With modern AI capabilities, that soul is being restored at last.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Justin Choi is founder and CEO of Nativo.