A Shift to Artificial Intelligence by Big Advertisers
According to executives, some of the largest advertisers in the world—such as the food company Nestle and the consumer goods major Unilever—are experimenting with deploying generative AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E to boost productivity and save costs.
However, humans will likely still be involved in the process for some time to come. This is especially true since many businesses are still concerned about security and copyright threats, as well as the dangers of unintentional biases built into the data that feeds the software.
Over the past year, the term "generative artificial intelligence" (AI), which can be used to create content based on historical data, has gained popularity, capturing the public's attention and sparking interest across various businesses.
Marketing teams anticipate that this technology will lead to faster, less expensive, and almost limitless ways to advertise products.
Executives at two of the top consumer goods companies and the world's largest advertising agency have stated that investment is already increasing in anticipation that AI could permanently alter how advertisers bring products to market.
Rather than merely categorizing or recognizing data like other AI, this technology can be employed to generate seemingly original content, including writing, graphics, and even computer code.
Mark Read, CEO of the world's largest advertising agency, WPP, states that they are collaborating with Nestle and Mondelez, the creator of Oreos, to leverage generative AI in marketing campaigns.
"The savings can be 10 or 20 times," Read said in an interview. "Rather than flying a film crew down to Africa to shoot a commercial, we've created that virtually."
In India, WPP collaborated with Mondelez on an AI-driven Cadbury campaign with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, producing ads where the actor encouraged passers-by to shop at 2,000 local stores during Diwali.
Small businesses used a microsite to generate versions of the ads featuring their own stores, which could be posted on social media and other platforms. Approximately 130,000 ads were created, featuring 2,000 stores, which garnered 94 million views across YouTube and Facebook, according to WPP.
WPP employs "20 young people in their early twenties who are AI apprentices" in London, says Read, and has partnered with the University of Oxford on courses focused on the future of marketing. The "AI for business" diploma provides training in data and AI for client leaders, practitioners, and WPP executives, according to WPP's website.
The team works under AI expert Daniel Hulme, who was appointed chief AI officer at WPP two years ago.
"It's much easier to think about all the jobs that will be disrupted than all the jobs that will be created," Read said.
Nestle is also exploring ways to use ChatGPT 4.0 and Dall-E 2 to help market its products, as stated by Aude Gandon, its Global Chief Marketing Officer and an ex-Google executive.
"The engine is answering campaign briefs with great ideas and inspiration that are fully on brand and on strategy," Gandon said. "The ideas are then further developed by the creative team to ultimately become content that will be produced, for example for our websites."
Advertisers have already started using the technology in their marketing campaigns, although politicians and philosophers are still debating whether content created by generative AI models is comparable to human creativity.
In one instance, Dutch gallery Rijksmuseum's research team went viral online on September 8, 2022, after using X-Ray to reveal new objects hidden in Baroque artist Johannes Vermeer's oil painting 'The Milkmaid'.
Less than 24 hours later, WPP used OpenAI's generator system DALL-E 2 to "reveal" its own imagined scenes beyond the borders of the painting's frame in a public YouTube ad for Nestle's La Laitière yogurt and dairy brand.
Through almost 1,000 iterations, the video of Nestle's version of The Milkmaid generated 700,000 euros ($766,010) of "media value" for the Swiss food giant. Media value is the cost of advertising needed to generate the same public exposure.
WPP said the content cost it nothing to make. A spokesperson for the Rijksmuseum said it had an open data policy for non-copyrighted images, meaning anyone can use its images.
Nestle is not alone in its experiments.
Unilever, which owns more than 400 brands including Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, has its own generative AI technology that can write product descriptions for retailers' websites and digital commerce sites, it said.
The company's TRESemmé haircare brand has used its AI content generator for written content and its automation tool for visual content on Amazon.co.uk.
But Unilever is concerned about copyrights, intellectual property, privacy, and data, Aaron Rajan, its global vice president of Go To Market Technology, told Reuters.
The company wants to prevent its technology from reproducing human biases, like racial or gender stereotypes, that might be embedded in the data it processes.
"Ensuring that these models when you type in certain terms are coming back with an unstereotyped view of the world is really critical," he said.
Nestle's Gandon told Reuters the company was "keeping security and privacy top-of-mind."
Consumer companies are using data from retailers like Walmart, Carrefour, and Kroger to power their AI tools, said Martin Sorrell, executive chair of advertising group S4 Capital and the founder of WPP.
"You've got two buckets of clients: one that is jumping in fully and the other that is saying 'let's experiment'," he said.
Some consumer goods firms remain wary of security risks or copyright breaches, industry executives say.
"If you want a rule of thumb: consider everything you tell an AI service as if it were a really juicy piece of gossip. Would you want it getting out?," said Ben King, VP of customer trust at Okta, a provider of online authentication services.
"Would you want someone else knowing the same sort of thing about you?" he added. "If not, don't tell the AI." ($1 = 0.9138 euros)