Megan Harris

Guidelines to Help Communicators Embrace Artificial Intelligence

By: Megan Harris | November 27, 2017 | 
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artificial intelligenceChalk it up to the hype surrounding features such as “Blade Runner” or “Mr. Robot,” but it seems American consumers stand ready to embrace artificial intelligence.

Consumers Ready to Embrace Artificial Intelligence

In the U.S., 45 percent of adults describe their feelings towards artificial intelligence as “interested,” per a new study, “Sex, Lies and AI: How Americans Feel About Artificial Intelligence and What Marketers Need to Know” released by SYZYGY this past October.

Their interest makes sense, as many of us already interact with AI through chatbots and virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa.

However, it’s not all smooth sailing ahead for AI.

“Fear” is an emotion cited by many respondents.

Around 43 percent of the public thinks AI could pose a threat to long-term human survival.

Quite frankly, many people are simply confused by AI and are having trouble sorting through the benefits and potential drawbacks.

That’s driving a near-unanimous outcry (96 percent) for the public to gain a better understanding.

This mixture of fear and lack of knowledge is likely why 89 percent said that the “r” word—regulation—should to apply to AI used in marketing.

Most Americans are not anti-AI when it comes to marketing.

According to the survey, 72 percent don’t care if AI creates ads they see, and 63 percent don’t care if a robot answers the customer service line.

They want transparency and see regulation as a way to ensure they know whether they are interacting with a human or a robot.

People don’t want to be tricked.

Instituting a Code of Ethics for Use of Artificial Intelligence

So, the message for marketers and brands is if we don’t self-regulate to prevent potential abuse, the legislative and legal system may do that for us.

That’s why we decided to use the findings from our study to take the first stab at creating a framework for a code of ethics for marketers to follow.

Industry ethics is hardly a new concept, nor unfamiliar territory.

Marketing and communication professionals have embraced a code of ethics for decades.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics asks members to sign a compliance pledge.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) also has a longstanding Statement of Ethics.

Ethical Guidelines to Help Communicators Embrace Artificial Intelligence

Here’s our draft “AI Use by Marketers—Code of Ethics” for your consideration:

1. Do No Harm

While public understanding of artificial intelligence is low, marketers should not use that fact to take advantage of the public.

Artificial intelligence should not be used to deceive, manipulate, or harm the well-being of your audience.

Used well in marketing, AI can read all the digital signals sent by a consumer.

It can then help the brand get closer to the customer.

This happens through personalized messages designed to meet each customer’s specific needs and expectations.

That’s a good thing, but don’t try to dupe the consumer into buying something that’s not right for them.

2. Build Trust

Overall, consumers have high expectations and hopes for artificial intelligence.

Forty percent say they want it to save them time, 15 percent want it to make things safer, and 12 percent want it to save them money.

AI can promote greater transparency, honesty, and fairness in marketing.

AI technology should be used to build public confidence, not to tear down trust.

And while AI algorithms present a problem when it comes to things such as “fake news,” they also present the solution.

To eliminate false, manipulative, or deceptive content and prevent this information from spreading, use artificial intelligence.

3. Do Not Conceal

Tell the truth and ask permission.

An AI technology should not hide its identity or pose as a human when marketing or interacting with consumers.

If we want consumers to be comfortable with our using artificial intelligence to personalize offers, ads, recommendations, or other communications, we need to be honest about it.

Consumers shouldn’t have to ask the infamous Blade Runner question, “Are you a human or a replicant?” question.

It should be clear when someone is interacting with AI rather than a human company representative.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents would support a rule prohibiting AI systems such as social media bots, chatbots, or virtual assistants from concealing their AI identity or pretending to be human.

In addition to transparency, an overwhelming 71 percent of consumers also want brands to ask for consent before using AI to market to them.

4. Be Helpful

Fifty-nine percent of Americans feel artificial intelligence already affects their lives.

And they are right.

Many Americans receive exposure to AI when viewing recommendations from Amazon or Netflix, which is typically a good experience.

Using AI in marketing helps people make better purchasing decisions.

It provides clear, honest, and unbiased information addressing their genuine needs.

By showing customers we’re providing value and being transparent about AI, they’ll be more likely to trust our use of it in the future.

We can succeed at incorporating AI into effective marketing communications strategies.

Research shows the public is willing to embrace artificial intelligence.

Let’s not miss the opportunity do it right.

In the end, it’s always about the value we provide to our audiences.

Artificial intelligence helps consumers make better purchase decisions.

It also improves convenience of the products and services offered.

If we responsibly use AI and communicate effectively, it’s a powerful tool for a bright future.

What are your thoughts on AI? Please share in the comments below.

About Megan Harris


Megan Harris is Managing Director of SYZYGY North America, which is partially owned by WPP. A gifted communicator and thoughtful millennial leader with deep insights into digital marketing, Megan moved to lead SYZYGY’s New York office after nine years with Razorfish, where she headed media in the EMEA region and sat on the Razorfish Board of Europe. She has won numerous awards for her work with brands such as Starwood Resorts, Ralph Lauren, Mondelez, and Avis. She has delivered keynotes, hosted conferences, and sat on executive panels at numerous conferences and events, such as: Digiday Programmatic Summit, Microsoft Digital Marketing Summit, CMO Insights Summit, Advertising Week Europe, Advertising Week New York, The Internationalist Think Tank, Digital Travel Summit, Luxury Interactive Summit, Eye for Travel Digital, and the Razorfish Client Summit.

  • gailnelson2000

    I find this so interesting! This weekend, I was reading a NYT magazine article that also addressed human side of artificial intelligence. The gist of it is that many people, including doctors and the regulators in Europe, won’t accept A.I. that can’t communicate the “why” behind its decisions in terms that people can understand. That concept is called “explainable A.I.” and once scientists figure out how to make it a reality, and the world accepts ethical codes such as the one Megan is talking about, A.I. will really take off. Here’s a link to the NYT article, for those of you that subscribe: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/magazine/can-ai-be-taught-to-explain-itself.html

  • If you look at the protocol of the emergence of other society changing technology, you see a similar code of ethics rise up. Genomics, for example. The big (and scary) difference with AI and these other innovations, is they took longer to develop and evolve. It was easier to understand exactly what specifics and conditions needed to be included in such a code of ethics, and regulations could be developed around those things. AI is growing and innovating at a warp speed. Too fast for us to do this in the same way, so we must be ever on top of what’s happening. What you’ve laid out here is a great set of foundational elements to guide all development….but there is always a layer of grey.

    Personally, I think every AI developer should be required to watch Terminator 2 on a quarterly basis.

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