Advertisers are currently navigating one of the biggest shake-ups to the way they collect, use and store consumer data. For some, GDPR is an opportunity for the industry to make some much-needed reforms – with AI at the helm.

Previously, annoying, low quality ads continuously interfered with user’s online experiences as ‘big data’ was harvested and used as the go-to retargeting tool. The old methods of profiling and targeting audiences was lazy, and pretty detrimental to the consumer experience. There is no doubt that many consumers became disillusioned with the quality of the ads that constantly interrupted them, and many have become equally concerned about the way their data was being used following a number of high-profile breaches.

Post-GDPR, a reliance on cookies and consumer digital fingerprints is no longer the easy option for ensuring reach, and marketers are having to think outside of the box when it comes to communicating with audiences and truly engaging them.

There is a renewed opportunity to get to know consumers better, and earn a place in their brand repertoire by delivering real value. There’s an opportunity for trust to be restored in digital advertising, and a chance to investigate newer, more accurate targeting techniques that will not only top-up and maintain existing audiences but also help to discover new ones - all without risking breach of regulations.

A picture can speak a thousand words – without the need to harvest personal data

What brands, agencies and creatives have perhaps failed to appreciate thus far is the enormous amount of valuable insight that the web can provide about consumers, without the need to harvest any personal data.

Image-based communication via social media has become more common than person-to-person interaction. The fact that Instagram has just made it into the world’s top 100 most valuable global brands is testament to that. Couple this with the billions of images uploaded and shared on the internet daily, and there remains a unique opportunity for advertisers to get to know their customers in the language they now speak: images.

But rather than collecting vast amounts of personal data related to these images, computer vision is a relatively untapped technique for providing effective insight. For marketers, the vast quantity of shared, saved and viewed images across multiple online platforms opens up the possibility of serving image-based ads that are contextually relevant to the content that people are viewing and sharing. The visual branch of AI is a key tool for automating the analysis of this information treasure-trove to provide contextually intelligent solutions.

This could change how marketers approach consumers and, in turn, prove themselves more worthy of consumer attention. AI can spot trends, identify patterns and therefore personalise content at a faster and more accurate level than cookie data could ever achieve. With AI, marketers can seamlessly bridge the gap between engaged, receptive audiences and brand messaging.

The prospect of automated image recognition is also particularly exciting when considering where it can feed into creative and support advancing technologies. AR and VR campaigns embedded directly into content that the user is already paying attention to can boost emotional impact and encourage positive brand affinity simultaneously.

A healthier digital advertising ecosystem

For brand safety, the visual branch of AI has added benefits for the industry. So much of what constitutes dangerous content on the internet is visual, but marketers are still text-obsessed because keyword recognition is one of the oldest ways of attempting to control the online environment. The reality, however, is that unsafe online imagery often appears without any accompanying text, meaning AI-powered computer vision is the best method of detecting dangerous content that keyword detection and sometimes even blacklists would be unable to help with. It can also scan the internet and action changes in real-time; thus, visual intelligence is set to become an increasingly important tool for advertisers.

Brands are increasingly buying in to the benefits of AI and exploring different ways to harness the power of images using computer vision. Emotion-reading AI is even coming to the fore with the potential to revolutionize the way marketers can measure impact; another aspect of digital advertising that was previously shrouded in mystery.

As technologies advance, a resurgence in digital advertising could be on the horizon – a bright new future that is not only risk-free for marketers but beneficial for consumers too. Ultimately, we could be on the brink of a new era in digital advertising, and the creation of a healthier, more sustainable digital advertising ecosystem. The industry will need to embrace change and work together towards this end goal, and brands must continue to adapt if they want to stay relevant.