Since debuting last November, OpenAI's ChatGPT has captivated the ad industry and beyond with an ability to generate meaningful, coherent copy in a way previously unmatched by chatbot technology. Microsoft quickly invested $10 billion in the company, BuzzFeed said it would use its offerings to create content, and the tech is at the center of campaigns for brands Mint Mobile and Avocados from Mexico.
The development has put AI back on the front burner for marketers seeking ad campaigns that are quicker to create and cheaper to run, especially during a cautious economic moment that could lead to tightening ad budgets. Advanced language models like ChatGPT that use natural language processing and GPT-3 technology can generate large amounts of high-quality content at a fraction of the cost and time it takes for humans, explained Lanie Shalek, director of growth marketing at Jobi Capital.
"This could lead to a shift in the ad and marketing industries, as companies will likely begin to rely more heavily on AI-generated content in their marketing efforts for generating marketing content and writing copy across email, SMS, and social media, as well as assisting in influencer outreach," Shalek said in emailed comments.
However, while experts note that AI tools like ChatGPT could alter several aspects of the ad business, most raised just as many warning signs and noted other processes that must be undertaken concurrently when integrating AI into marketing. For now, the rise of ChatGPT is more likely to tweak marketing rather than topple the entire apple cart.
"We have yet to see AI produce something that is ready for primetime," said Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of the New England Consulting Group. "It's just not there yet — I don't think it ever will be."
Most experts agreed that the greatest impact ChatGPT will have on marketing relates to content creation, outpacing the typical speed of the brainstorming process and solving for creative that tends to be clustered by style (i.e. all funny ideas or all serious ones). But what AI delivers in low cost and high speed, it can't quite deliver in humanity – an uncanny valley experienced by anyone who has read AI-generated text.
"I can tell when text is AI-generated right now, because there's a quality to it that doesn't quite fit; it doesn't quite make sense," said Ajay Goel, founder of email marketing platform GMass.
ChatGPT also has limits for making content from scratch: while it can pull together and compile information that already exists, it can't generate new ideas that are the lifeblood of strong marketing campaigns. So while it can allegedly pass the LSAT exam, it's unclear that it could ever buy the world a Coke.
"It's not for surfacing anything revolutionary: it's taking what exists, and regurgitating it in a way that makes sense by combining information from different sources," Goel said. "I don't think it's ever going to, in its current version, produce final copy that will actually be used and be successful in a marketing campaign."
However, the use of ChatGPT could create new jobs or at least require marketers to have new skill sets. On the front end, users must know how to best use ChatGPT to generate useful content.
"Whether you're doing market research, asking somebody out for a date, or asking a question to ChatGPT, you're gonna have people who have honed the skill of knowing how to ask the question to get the most robust answers," Stibel said.
Marketers will also need to be able to sort through AI-generated text and polish the best output. Both front-end and back-end jobs will require investment, either in trainings and hirings, but are likely to drive more content creation in-house.
ChatGPT and AI text generation requires a human touch not just to avoid the uncanny valley but to sidestep advertising headaches. KFC's German brand last year faced controversy when its app sent out an alert asking consumers to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht with its food. The chain blamed the misstep on a “semi-automated content creation process linked to calendars that include national observances.”
"Brand safety concerns are a major issue. AI-generated copy will likely be a wonderful canvas for brainstorming ideas and coming up with draft concepts, but even under the best circumstances, brands and marketers will want a human responsible for final edits," said Mark Sturino, VP of data and analytics for independent media agency Good Apple, in emailed comments.
The ethical use of AI in marketing has also been tabbed as a priority for CMOs, per a recent Gartner survey, and resembles the conversation around the use of deepfakes that could lead to greater mistrust of advertising and media.
"Businesses should also consider the ethical implications of using AI-generated content, such as ensuring transparency and taking steps to prevent the spread of misinformation," said Jobi Capital's Shalek.
Even with these limits and concerns, marketers should at least be keeping up with developments like ChatGPT and determining if and how the technology will affect their work, for good or bad, in short- or long-term — if they haven't already done so.
"Whether it's an agency, a company or a consultancy, I can't believe there are good marketing organizations that don't already have a fair amount of experience with AI," said New England Consulting Group's Stibel.