The ability of AI to optimize analytical and creative operations in the world of CPG marketing is becoming a game changer. However, as AI is integrated deeper into marketing activities we must consider its implications for both our industry and consumers.

The potential of AI-powered marketing is significant, but so are the challenges it presents. As we wrote in WARC’s Future of Digital Commerce published earlier this year, AI’s value comes from the integration of multiple datasets. This could include sources as diverse as social media and blog posts, product reviews and recommendations. This diversity adds value, but can complicate if not prevent identifying the source of inaccurate information.

Training is table stakes

Paul Roetzer, CEO of the Marketing AI Institute, says the challenge is not just implementing a technology. It's about reimagining the entire marketing ecosystem. Change is happening so rapidly that predicting the future beyond six to 18 months is a fool's errand.

How to prepare for an unknown future? Accenture's Pulse of Change report can provide some insight.

According to a survey of 3,000 C-level leaders across multiple industries, 60% of organizations are implementing emerging technologies like generative AI to boost employee productivity. However, only 33% are actively reskilling their workforce to support the adoption of the new technology.

It’s a concern that only half of the companies investing in the new technology are also investing in training employees on how to use it. But then again, what skills need to be reskilled? If, as Roetzer asserts, the planning horizon for this technology is 18 months at most, how do we assess what skills will be needed in two, three, and four years from now?

A modest proposal

Given the pace and enormity of the coming change, this industry needs an established set of guidelines, starting with the priorities listed below.

  1. Draft an AI ethics playbook. Commit to using AI in ways that respect consumer autonomy and promote trust. Develop industry-wide ethical standards for AI use in marketing, addressing how the data is collected, how its used, and by whom. As addressed in the Future of Digital Commerce, the adoption of AI will impact tech stacks, partner ecosystems, and business models – ethical guidelines will need to be shared with stakeholders in each of these roles.
  1. Embrace transparency. Avoid having opaque systems that make consumer-affecting decisions. Lack of transparency breeds distrust. Marketers should clearly disclose when AI is being used in campaigns and consumer interactions. This openness will be key to building trust and educating consumers about the role AI plays in their lives.
  1. Provide data privacy. Ensure measures are in place to safeguard consumer information. Go beyond mere compliance with regulations like GDPR or CCPA and develop best practices that put consumer privacy at the forefront of all AI strategies. 
  1. Validate AI integrity. Conduct regular audits to ensure messaging and targeting are bias free and not exaggerating or perpetuating existing biases or creating new ones.
  1. AI Ownership. Assign responsibility for monitoring AI developments within the organization. As Roetzer suggests, whether it's a committee or an individual, someone needs to be tasked with keeping an eye on new AI developments and asking, "What does this mean for us?" This "AI radar" will be crucial in helping companies distinguish between game-changing innovation and mere distractions.

Not just about doing more, faster

The AI revolution in marketing is not about doing more, faster. It's about reimagining what's possible while ensuring we don't lose sight of our responsibilities to consumers. The goal should be to create an environment where AI enhances connections with consumers.

The future of AI in CPG marketing is not predetermined. It will be shaped by the decisions we make today. To ensure those decisions help lead us towards a future where AI is a tool for connection, creativity, and consumer benefit, the time to act is now.

(This article was written by a human being.)

WARC subscribers can click here to read The Future of Digital Commerce 2024. A sample version is also available for non-subscribers.