Weighing The Brand & Agency Relationship In The AI-driven Era

With AI being the central collaborator, brands and agencies are making the most of its benefits, striving hard to fill the gaps and establishing a healthy alliance overall

Debating about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) has rather become passé now. The power it holds to transform industries is stamped by most of the industry heads and we only expect it to get bigger with time. That being said, one of AI's epoch-making effects is visible in how brands and agencies interact with each other in the present day. AI has moved beyond the role of a mere marketing tool that enhances and streamlines business strategies and approaches to becoming a fundamental tool in the arsenal of agencies. According to a study by Accenture, AI is estimated to increase productivity in the creative industry by up to 40 per cent by 2035.

To this effect, certain trends have surfaced that are expected to stay long-term, such as an increased reliance on data-driven strategies, greater emphasis on customer experience, collaborative partnerships, increased focus on measurable ROIs, and more. 

Here's diving deep into brands and agencies' love-hate relationship with AI.

The Bright Side

The majority of the marketing leaders confirmed AI's role in catalysing a symbiotic relationship between brands and agencies, providing support to the ecosystem and not taking over it. On this, Oindrila Roy, Managing Director, Publicis Worldwide India, says, "AI tools are our allies in the work we do, and agencies that are embracing them in their daily work are poised to be at the forefront of the marketing revolution, which is and will continue to help brands grow. So, in the new scheme of things, the AI-friendly agencies are surely strengthening their relationships with their clients."

Leaders see AI as an added reason for agencies and brands to co-create and explore new avenues. They see it as a game-changer in helping creativity make a positive impact on human lives, making an idea impactful in multiple ways.

With AI, personalisation is also getting faster, easier, and more impactful. For example, Publicis worked for Oreo to create a campaign that leveraged generative AI and ChatGPT to produce witty responses to customers' questions in Farhan Akhtar’s voice. It was entirely AI-enabled and did not require any human intervention. This feature allowed unlocking the door to unlimited and fully personalised messaging at scale for the brand.

Even the SunFeast Dark Fantasy campaign was one of the popular campaigns that leveraged generative AI to empower fans and consumers to create personalised advertisements featuring themselves alongside Shah Rukh Khan with just a selfie.

Mitesh Kothari, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, White Rivers Media agrees that the value of AI in enhancing efficiency and personalisation is increasingly recognised today. "Brand-agency relationships are evolving, with AI as a central collaborator," he says.

Nisha Narayanan, COO and Director, Red FM and Magic FM also sees AI as a tool that accelerates the response time to briefs, providing solutions built on past experiences. 

The Grave Gaps

We know that AI holds the power to enhance the ingenuity of people, human talent and creativity. So, while it brings efficiency, scale, and effectiveness to the ideas, it cannot substitute for the trust, credibility, abstractness and emotions that emanate from a human touch. 

Even Roy feels that the more we get acquainted with AI-generated music, poetry, art and ads, the less awestruck we are by the magic of AI. "The reason why I doubt it will replace the ingenuity of human talent is the definition of creativity itself. For a piece to be creative, it should be fundamentally innovative, never done before. 

More importantly, creativity in advertising is an output of emotions, experiences and unique perspectives. I do not think AI will replace all of these human conditions required for original creativity, at least in the near future."

The other gap for agencies lies in making sure that ethical considerations and data privacy are in place. Taking extra measures to safeguard the customer data collected is essential to avoiding data breaches. 

Concerns about biases and inaccurate content are also alarming in the overall brand-agency model, according to experts. AI’s output is only as good as the data it’s trained on. If it is trained with data of disproportionate representation, AI may produce inaccurate or biased predictions. It can also lead to unfairly targeted ads. Hence, closely monitoring this side of the coin is pivotal in establishing a healthy relationship between the two parties.

The other big opportunity with the agency model lies in agility and a deeper understanding of the digital landscape. "10-12 years back, the media landscape was TV first and thus, all creative, media and marketing energies were spent in driving the holy grail of TV. Digital today, is an equally important media. AORs need to start taking the responsibility of being the hub of this omnichannel work. Understanding and leveraging AI to drive an omnichannel approach can be a big upside for agencies either through targeting or content creation," mentions Gunjan Khetan, Marketing Director, Perfetti Van Melle India.

He further adds agencies to focus on agility to sail through this AI era smoothly. "The other opportunity is agility. There is so much content being created every second and the massive fragmentation of channels and more importantly consumer attention. At the same time, there is a lot of emphasis on driving ROI on marketing. Leveraging AI to create content at scale, test it and then invest in the best-performing one is an area where agencies can continue to do more," Khetan points.


Striking The Balance

At this moment, AI does not look like a game-changer to win a brand's business. Human intelligence is still the fundamental ingredient in winning pitches.

Brands and agencies that work together effectively to leverage the true potential of AI to achieve their shared goal will be the ones that win in the new age. Having said that, agencies will need to stay ahead of the curve in understanding and adopting data science, machine learning and AI-powered marketing tools to win a brand's trust, which will increasingly expect more data-driven solutions and faster turnarounds. On the other hand, brands will have to trust agencies with their data to leverage the benefits of AI.

The need of the hour for brands and agencies will be to engage in open communication, constant learning, and flexible partnerships that can build a strong brand-agency partnership. AI gives brands powerful data and automation tools, but agency expertise in strategy and creativity remains irreplaceable. "The winning combo will involve leveraging both, creating balanced partnerships that make the most of both worlds," sums Kothari.

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