Could marketers misuse artificial intelligence?

Could marketers misuse artificial intelligence? With over 15 years of diverse digital experience, Andy is a multi-disciplinary technologist who can explain complex concepts, technical dependencies and the subtleties of user experience to non-technical audiences in simple, clear English. Andy has lead the delivery of a range of digital projects for global brands whilst also maintaining a strong interest in new and emerging digital and consumer technologies.


The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has dominated scientific and popular culture for decades.

Most fictional works that explore the idea of AI focus on its dangers to humanity, with the premise often involving robots or super-advanced computer interfaces that have developed their own freewill and turned against humanity (a la HAL 9000 from Space Odyssey). 

But despite fearmongering around AI, scientists have been developing software and tech to make machines smarter than ever.

We have already seen AI programs beat humans at complex games, computers that can reproduce classical works of art and robots that can play football (albeit not convincingly).

One area where AI brings a lot of opportunity is the marketing industry.

Advancements in AI technology will transform how marketing campaigns are developed and potentially make people’s interaction with marketing content and brand experiences more personal, or alternatively, less so.

The benefits of AI in marketing 

One of the most exciting developments in AI is in speech recognition tech and its potential application to marketing solutions such as CRM.

Google recently launched messaging app Allo, which uses an AI chatbot to communicate with consumers and mimic the type of customer service humans get when conversing with real people.

When Google revealed its new smartphone, Pixel, it was the AI assistant programmed into the phone that took centre stage. Microsoft and Apple have already developed and incorporated similar ‘intelligent personal assistants’, Siri and Cortana respectively, into their products.

These developments demonstrate how speech recognition tech can enable brands to construct conversational interfaces which will allow consumers to converse with brands more naturally.

Advancements in voice search will allow consumers to communicate orally with devices – which is helpful if you are in a situation where typing isn’t practical.

Ad-targeting is another area that stands to benefit from AI opportunities. Programmatic advertising has already helped to make targeting brand messages online a more accurate process.

With AI technology, digital marketers could deliver targeted propositions to very small targeted groups.

There is a powerful opportunity, and it’s up to brands and advertisers to determine how they use it.

For example, AI technology would enable marketing automation software to process vast quantities of data at speed, so that online users would only see ads that are very specific to them and their interests.

From websites which build themselves, dynamic product pricing online based on live data and virtual hosts at hotels, there are so many different applications for AI technology in marketing.

But, to borrow a famous line, with great power comes great responsibility, so therefore we can’t examine the benefits of AI in marketing without also acknowledging the dangers.

The dangers of AI in marketing

There is potential for AI technology to be misused within marketing, either maliciously or unintentionally. It is important that the adoption AI technology in marketing practices is a carefully structured and considered process.

Data privacy is a contentious issue in online marketing and AI technology could exasperate concerns around privacy.

There has been much discussion in the industry regarding brands misuse of customer data and the lack of transparency. This follows reports from the Chartered Institute of Marketing that 92% of consumers do not understand how their data is used.

Marketers could obtain extra intelligence by using AI in a conversational way with consumers, who may not be aware they are speaking to a chatbot, for example.

Moreover, people may not be comfortable interacting with a chatbot when discussing sensitive information, such as explaining their medical problem or dealing with financial information.

This has implications for user privacy – and it could also cause a disconnect between the user and an AI-controlled customer service interface.

Reliance on machines

Moreover, marketers may become over-reliant on AI to automate every marketing process, making marketing communications less human and more impersonal.

Machines may be able to store and retrieve vast amounts of data, but ultimately they are programmed to do what they’ve been told to do. From a customer service context, a virtual store assistant would currently be incapable of subtlety altering their response to a shopper based on their tone of voice or body language.  

The problem with AI technology which attempts to mimic human thinking and interaction is that humans understand that this is not authentic and often become uneasy when having to engage in such interactions with an artificial construct.

This phenomena is known as the ‘uncanny valley’, and while it may not necessarily be a danger to consumers it could leave them feeling uneasy, for marketers, this means that brand experiences could feel unnatural and awkward.  

Despite what The Terminator and a slew of other dystopian films would have you believe, AI is not inherently a good or bad thing.

There is a powerful opportunity, and it’s up to brands and advertisers to determine how they use it. AI has the potential to fundamentally challenge the way marketing is done.

But marketers must appreciate how consumers want to interact, and then decide if AI is an effective and appropriate way for their customers to experience their brand.  


The artificial intelligence (AI) market is set to reach $3,061 billion by 2024 according to recent research. The AI Expo world series looks at the future impact of these technologies, including business intelligence, machine learning, and chatbots. Find out more here.

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