How AI redefines advertising in 2021

Watson can kick butt on Jeopardy. But will it unlock the mystical secrets of Madison Avenue?

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Advertising as a sector is notorious for major paradigm shifts. That's because the shell game of grabbing consumers' attention never stops, and as programmatic advertising gave way to influencers gave way to branded content gave way to ... and on and on, so the game will always roll ahead as savvy marketers break new terrain and legions follow behind in a desperate bid for ears and eyes.

Not surprising, then, that the winds are shifting yet again, and this time the leading edge of the industry is turning its attention to AI. I caught up with Sheri Bachstein, Global Head of Watson Advertising and The Weather Company, to discuss the transformative impact AI will have on the advertising game, as well as what we can expect in terms of adoption in traditional advertising and untested ecosystems like AR/VR.

Me: What role will AI play in marketing in the years ahead? Where are we seeing AI already playing a successful role? Can you give some concrete examples?

Sheri: We're currently experiencing a significant period of transformation throughout the marketing and advertising industry with the deprecation of the cookie and third-party trackers. While this shift will cause a fair bit of disruption throughout our ecosystem, we believe there's an opportunity for AI to shape the industry with the same impact that programmatic had years ago.

Tapping into AI's ability to offer predictive analysis on consumer behavior, while simultaneously leveraging data responsibly, we feel it's the right solution going forward. AI has transformed industries like finance, insurance and healthcare just to name a few.  And we are already seeing success in advertising on our publisher platform, The Weather Channel.

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Me: What has been the pace of adoption in marketing? If there's any resistance to adoption, what do you think are the reasons for that?

Sheri: As with any new technology, the pace of adoption is tied to the education and experimentation of the technology itself. While there hasn't been a true resistance to AI, only about 25% of global companies understand the true value of AI, and today it isn't widely used across the digital advertising ecosystem.

Adoption will take time for some, while others will see the benefits immediately. We need to ensure that AI is no longer perceived as a buzzword, but rather a tangible solution that can deliver real outcomes in a privacy forward way. Pushing this narrative will organically allow for us to explain the benefits of AI and explain why this technology will be a force for good.

Me: Programmatic advertising changed the whole playbook for marketers. When might AI have a similar degree of impact? Why will it be a game changer?

When programmatic came on the scene 10 years ago, it took a while for the industry to truly adopt it. We believe AI will be adopted faster. In fact, don't be surprised if within the next year AI becomes the transformational technology that not only provides a solution for a post cookie ecosystem, but also becomes the foundational technology because it's open and transparent.  The ad industry doesn't need a variety of point solutions, it needs to evolve and leverage AI as new category of advertising.

Sheri: What technological advances or breakthroughs can we expect in the years ahead that will help AI transform marketing?

One technology I'm especially interested in keeping an eye on is augmented reality (AR), especially in ecommerce.  Given the current climate, the ability to actually take a piece of clothing, jewelry, makeup, etc. and put it on in virtually, in some regard, is extremely valuable. It doesn't fully replace the experience of trying it on in the store, but it will enhance the online buying experience and it will be interactive and engaging... maybe even addictive and certainly social. Expect to see advertisers (as well as brands) look to tap into this technology more heavily to connect to consumers and accelerate e-commerce sales.