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October 6, 2014
Can Robots Replace Marketers?
 
With conversations regularly revolving around the digital landscape, and brands seeing how they can take more ownership in different processes, it is not hard to imagine the C-Suite exploring machine alternatives to the marketing process. But being in an industry known as a "people industry," are professionals in advertising and marketing on the chopping block in order for robots and computers to take their stead?

Definitely an interesting thought.

We have seen some aspects of marketing and advertising go to the computer side. At one time, many people thought media buying would stay a people-to-people business. Relationships were made and maintained between media folks and advertising professionals. The media salesperson and the agency media director would have regular talks to see what space was needed for which client, and what kind of deals could be made.

Now, brands are experimenting  and winning with real-time bidding (RTB) and programmatic advertising. Auctioning spots real-time provides great deals for brands and additional revenue to media platforms. Programmatic advertising can be very effective using predictive modeling, viewing statistics, and a sliding buying curve.

Can computers and robots take over other aspects of advertising? Like the creative process?

We're not too sure.

What is fascinating about advertising is that people need to understand people in order to succeed. It takes creativity and a certain feel for today's society to sound and be relevant. Can those "gut" sensations be turned into data and be spat out at a moment's notice? Can computers scan through zillions of photos to pick the right eyes, find the right smile, paint the right moment to get the consumer to connect to a piece of creative and try the brand?

The science of consumer behavior and behavioral economics has provided information that shows us how certain humans respond to certain things. Perhaps on the commodity level, where very little decision-making is needed, little creativity is needed as well. Computers and robots could actually save the brand and the agency a fair amount of money and time.

But for advertising for items that require heavy decision-making — high-end consumer items, commercial offerings, or niche materials — we can't believe that a person or group of people could be replaced. Perhaps we are simply unable to predict our own demise. 

Until then, we'll believe that people need to understand people in order to succeed in advertising. A robot or computer can think, but it can't feel. A machine can process, but it can't internalize. Maybe that will keep our industry a people industry. At least for now. 

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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