Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 26 September 2017


Artificial intelligence is starting to make a mark on the advertising industry. But will it ever take over the creative process from humans?

20170926 AI in adveritsing  

AI in visual search tools can help recommend similar products when you are online shopping, as demonstrated by local enterprise, ViSenze. (Image credit: ViSenze)

By Francis Kan 

When sales of their famous soups slowed at supermarkets Down Under last year, executives at Campbell’s in Australia didn't make a panicked call to their advertising agency like they might have in the past.

Rather, they turned to a Google solution known as Vogon for help. The digital tool helped Campbell create 1,700 versions of the same video advertisement tailored to different audiences on YouTube. Users searching YouTube for the Netflix show Orange is the New Black, for instance, were served up advertisements with funny copy about prison grub.

The results of the campaign would have made any creative director proud, generating over 1.5 million total views and a 56 per cent increase in Campbell's Simply Soup sales between May and July 2016.

The Campbell's campaign is just one example of how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies – fuelled by the proliferation of data – is transforming the advertising business, helping marketers create more relevant messages to better engage their target audiences. Indeed, the industry's biggest award show – the Cannes Lions – now has an award for data-driven creativity.

The explosion in computing power and big data has made advanced AI solutions a cost-effective tool in an advertising man’s bag of tricks, allowing their clients to engage their audiences with more precision than ever before.

AI algorithms are already at the heart of programmatic advertising, which uses automated software to purchase online ad placements. In 2016, at least 96 per cent of advertisers used programmatic advertising. AI has also been used to take over other repetitive tasks such monitoring mentions of a brand in the media.

But machine learning – a sub-field of AI that seeks to emulate the working of the human brain – is breaking new ground in the industry as it performs complex tasks such as predicting the performance of an advertisement even before it is put out in the market by using the advertiser’s historical ad performance and insights from similar advertisers.

"This allows you to make intelligent creative selection to maximise campaign performance," says Alexis Ng, a marketing manager at Singapore-based ReFUEL4, an AI-driven creative platform.

Finding their voice

More advertisers are also starting to leverage the growth in AI voice-recognition personal assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa to deliver more targeted advertising. According to Comscore, around half of all online searches a will be voice searches by 2020.

Agencies and tech firms are moving to capitalise on the trend. US-based voice analytics company Mattersight, for instance, is developing a solution that uses unique voice signatures to deliver personalised advertisements through voice-controlled devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

"We know how words or language correlate with personality styles. We ultimately think of ourselves fitting into that landscape, as we’re going to train bots how to be empathetic,” Mattersight's vice-president of data science, Andrew Traba, told tech website VentureBeat.

Dipping their toes into AI

Singapore is betting big on AI technology as it looks to grab a slice of the global pie that is forecasted to reach over US$5 billion by 2020, from just US$420 million in 2014, according to research and consulting firm MarketsandMarkets. The forecasted growth will be driven by rising adoption of AI in the media and advertising, healthcare, retail and finance sectors.

Local players in the advertising sector have started to dip their toes into the AI space. Singapore-based Nugit, for instance, offers a solution that uses insights from audience data to create stories to engage their target markets.

Using the system, advertisers can tell who is most likely to buy their product or service, when they are most likely to engage and which advertisement is most likely going to drive them to make a purchase. This allows marketers to more effectively tailor a message for a consumer that has a higher chance of producing results.

Another local enterprise, ViSenze has used machine learning to develop visual search tools that can detect and recognise target objects in complex images and videos automatically. This solution can be used to deliver relevant advertising and product recommendations based on the images a person is viewing.

It's still early days, but there's no doubt that AI technology is making headway in the advertising business, moving beyond just automated advertisement buys to helping in the creative process itself.

Global ad agency McCann earlier this year pitted one of its creative directors against a robot to develop a television advertisement for Clorets Mint Tab, and asked the public to vote on the results without telling them who was behind each version. The human won, but only just. He received 54 per cent of the vote.