With half of marketers already using artificial intelligence and a third more planning to do so, will the technology soon replace human practitioners?

David López López
Alexis Mavrommatis

The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence has seen it become ubiquitous in the modern marketing process. Within a short space of time, AI has made the leap from a simple tool used to analyze data in user-generated tasks, to an apparently autonomous decision-making system capable of strategic reasoning

Today’s AI has the ability to apply context, draw conclusions and offer personalized solutions — and it continues to evolve at pace. This significant and unprecedented level of progress has seen AI quickly excel over human ability in many processes of the marketing lifecycle.  

Analyzing huge volumes of market data to predict purchasing decisions; providing a solid evidence base for strategic decision-making; automating communications via chatbots; personalizing real-time promotions and optimizing omni-channel campaigns; the use of dynamic pricing algorithms — all this, and more, can be performed and delivered within an instant.  

AI can perform tasks involving logic — calculus, statistics, modeling — at a speed impossible to achieve with the human brain

In an article written for Harvard Deusto Business Review, authors David López López and Alexis Mavrommatis (senior lecturers with Esade) and Jorge Bachs Ferrer (Univerisity of Barcelona), note that half of marketers already use AI in their marketing strategies. A further third, they say, plan to do so in the future. 

With the sector almost completely committed to adopting AI in its marketing processes, where does this leave the traditional practitioner? Is the role of the marketer about to become redundant? While the figures may suggest this is the case, the authors suggest the answer is rather more complex.  

The Moravec paradox

In the 1980s, computer scientist Hans Moravec identified a paradox related to the nature of AI and human abilities. Conscious, innate qualities evolved by humans over millennia, such as intuition, compassion and empathy, are relatively easy for humans but difficult to replicate in machines.  

Qualities that come easily to humans are difficult, if not impossible, for AI to learn

Conscious tasks involving logic — calculus, statistics, modeling — have also evolved in humans. However, evolution took place over a shorter period of time and these skills remain relatively difficult skills to master. For AI, however, these skills can be not only learned but accurately performed and processed at a speed impossible to achieve with the human brain. 

In short, the Moravec paradox illustrates that conscious qualities that come easily to humans are difficult, if not impossible, for AI to learn. But AI can accurately learn complex processing tasks at a scale beyond human comprehension. 

Within the marketing realm, say López López and co-authors, this paradox poses three key assumptions: AI will replace human jobs (singularity); AI will transform marketing jobs (evolution); and AI will create new opportunities in marketing (creation). 

The singularity: Will AI take our marketing jobs?

The abilities of AI have already seen the technology replace many human tasks. But will it eliminate the need for human intervention altogether? According to the authors — and Moravec’s paradox — the answer is a firm “no”. 

Human interactions inspire and connect on a level automation cannot, particularly during crisis

Trust, authenticity and the ability to understand and adapt to complex personal situations are all essential elements of the marketing process — and none of these skills can be fostered by AI. Human interactions inspire and connect on a level automation cannot, particularly during times of crisis.  

The human ability to empathize with and inspire customers with authentic life experiences can’t be replicated. Without these qualities, brand loyalty is lost — and so are customers. 

The evolution of the marketing role

Human qualities are essential for marketing, but AI can and does play a key role in enhancing capabilities and augmenting skills. AI can become a valuable ally by increasing speed, simulation and scalability (amongst many other tasks). This value results in the creation of roles some scientists are dubbing “augmented professionals”.  

At the same time, people play a crucial role in the development of the functionality and capabilities of AI, not least in the monitoring of ethics and accountability — an area that demands increasing attention and regulation.  

By embracing this connection between human and artificial intelligence, the workplace can evolve into a collaborative environment that optimizes the marketing process. 

Creating opportunities

Will AI take our jobs? Some of them. But it will also create many others. Automation removes the need for humans to perform repetitive tasks and creates significant efficiencies in the process. But as AI develops, so do the specialisms required to build, manage and maintain it

Software specialisms aside, marketers need new skills to excel in an AI-driven world. These skills need to be learned, enhanced and continuously developed. The need for these skills has already seen the rise of a whole new sector of professionals required to devise and deliver the requisite training.  

Marketers need new skills to excel in an AI-driven world

According to Lopéz-Lopéz and co-authors, marketing companies are setting aside budgets that run into hundreds of thousands of dollars to upskill and expand their workforces as they increasingly adopt AI processes.  

Embrace solutions, don’t look for problems

In 1950, Alan Turing predicted there would come a time when the behavior of man and machine would become indistinguishable. To prove his theory, he created a test in which participants were asked to analyze written answers to questions and decide whether they were written by a human or machine. His test became the benchmark for analyzing whether machines have developed the capacity to replicate human sentience.  

The scientific community remains divided on whether a test developed seven decades ago can measure the sentience of machines. Depending on which research sources you choose to follow, the Turing test remains unbeaten. In 2014, a hotly disputed program was reported as passing the test and in 2022, The Washington Post reported Google’s LaMDA had passed the test. Google argues the claims were unfounded. 

But what is not in doubt is that AI offers tactical opportunities for the progression of marketing. The sector has embraced the abilities of AI in data-driven decision-making, content personalization and strategic development. The challenge for leaders is no longer to decide how AI can enhance human capabilities. This much is fact.  

What is now essential is to develop the awareness of how to ethically integrate AI into marketing — and preserve the authenticity that is crucial to the marketing relationship. 

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.