AI: The Good, The Bad and Albert
Since the term artificial intelligence (AI) was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956, its use in marketing has continued to flourish. With growing sophistication in predicting consumer intent and continual adoption of human characteristics, AI is putting pressure on traditional boundaries raising the inevitable question of ethics.
As Naomi Simson, Co-founder of the Big Red Group and Founder of RedBalloon explains, AI’s place in history will come down to an age old battle of good versus evil. It will come down to how people utilise the technology and tools. It’s a fine line between function and infraction.
Are there ethical issues in giving AI tools human characteristics and names (such as Albert)?
“It’s not just AI, we’ve referred to machines by name for a very long time, like IBM’s ‘Watson’. It’s about creating a sense of relatedness. It needs to be a part of the team, to be seen as an extension of the human. As a marketer, it makes our job easier because it delivers personality and a level of association.
To me, it’s not an ethical question. Albert is called Albert AI. His surname is AI. It’s very transparent. I think there’s only an ethical question when there’s deception involved. Deception is very different from engendering oneself or building an emotional connection.”
How does AI fit into the marketing landscape where building consumer trust is fundamental – does AI use persuasion as a proxy for trust?
“These tools do not operate alone. The art of persuasion is a concept from the 1950’s or earlier, and that is exactly what ‘influencers’ in the media are currently doing, creating their own reach by using their reputation and influence. The real point is, did I choose to buy based on information that was fair and reasonable? The thing that concerns me most is the fake news and fake advertising.
But if you don’t have trust, then you are never going to buy. The only way to build trust is to live in the world of the customer, to speak their language and to paint a picture of what the future could look like if they chose your particular product or service. I’ve always said, no one can sell anything, someone has to choose to buy.”
How do you differentiate in a marketplace where businesses aren’t doing the right thing?
“It’s not the AI tool, it’s how people are using it. Are they using it for good or for evil? And why should brands with the right intentions, the right ethical footprint, commitment to sustainability and seed programs not be able to fight on the same playing field as unethical businesses?
There’s a lot going on with big brands boycotting Facebook right now while it’s the perpetuator of hate speech. There’s a broader conversation to have about how these things are governed and policed. A wonderful democratic notion of free speech is being abused and people are being manipulated. Is it the tool or the people? If you take the tools away from those who are legally complying, then they’re at a disadvantage and that’s not fair.”
What led you to change your approach to marketing technology at the Big Red Group?
“When I started RedBalloon over 20 years ago, before Google AdWords was even launched, I was able to acquire a customer for five cents. Fast forward to when we created the Big Red Group with the view of acquiring different brands and audiences, the cost to acquire had gone up to fifty dollars. What had been a very nice media landscape had become increasingly complex. It was very fast moving with consumer sentiment shifting moment by moment.
Representing over 2000 small businesses, we had 15,000 Google ad campaigns to contend with! We would spend a lot of time looking back at what happened, but that didn’t set us up for the future or consumer sentiment.”
Why Albert AI?
“We came across Albert AI about three years ago in Israel, he had a very good footprint in terms of consumer websites. Because he’s learning from history to predict the future, he needs some history to work with. The fact that RedBalloon had 15 years of data helped Albert understand the behaviour of audiences.
Albert is really unemotional, he’s just looking to achieve his KPI’s. He will stop a campaign if it’s not working, he’ll suspend it and say – this is what I’ve learned, adjust your creative, take your text off the top of the image and it’ll probably work better. He gives those suggestions. That’s not what you’re getting from Facebook or Google, they’re just continually taking your media spend until you run out. In terms of ethical, in terms of every dollar is precious, I think that Albert plays a fundamental role in that.”
“No one can sell anything, someone has to choose to buy.”
You can listen to the Marketics ‘Think: Business Futures’ Podcast, hosted by Max Hillman in Whooshkaa now.