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Can AI ever master media planning?


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Robert Hicks of out-of-home TV broadcaster C-Screens assesses the present and near-future of AI in the media space. Is the technology ready to take over? Not any time soon, Hicks argues

This piece was originally posted on The Drum Network in December 2023.

AI truly blew up in 2023, but it has been around in one way or another for a while – spellchecking software and predictive text are both precursors to the recent crop of generative AI software, led by ChatGPT.

And it’s not going away. Once properly governed, I believe it will only assist us all in our daily lives. But what does AI mean for our advertising agencies and media owners? There are both serious potential benefits and shortfalls.

The benefits: Cost efficiencies & bolstering media plans

The most attractive benefit for clients? Surely it’s the fact that AI can improve cost efficiencies, by automating certain media buying processes.

We all know AI can ‘learn’ and do manual tasks like planning and buying a lot quicker than a team of humans. It's a great tool and one that can learn over time, but it’s only as good as the data that’s ingested. The lack of historical data to enable precise predictions and optimisation of campaigns is, at present, a missing piece of the media plan. This is especially true for new businesses or products, where there may not even be enough historical data available to train AI algorithms effectively.

That said, the media landscape is constantly changing. New digital platforms and other media channels are always emerging, delivering new content to highly targeted, diverse audiences. AI will be able to process this data from various sources, including user behaviour and social media trends, enabling more accurate audience segmentation, and targeting. This learned behaviour will eventually allow for real-time optimisation.

Not all good news?

But at what cost to the client’s brand or campaign directive? Does the client want the cheapest media plan to reach as many people as possible from their target audience, with no mention of any major blue-chip media owners or broadcasters? Or do they still want to see certain ‘major’ media owners on a media plan regardless?

This is again where AI won’t operate with the nuances of human relationships and therefore risk large trading deals with traditional broadcast media owners. This will conflict with the brief and output that AI would produce, as there would be no ‘favoritism’ and arguably be too purist without being able to read the context of the content.

The role of AI should be to assist marketing professionals and media planners to concentrate on strategy and the creative aspects of their advertising campaigns. It’s a tool to provide suitable scalability as it can handle complexity of diverse target audiences.

The risks: Regulation & contextless content

It would also be remiss to not consider the GDPR element to using AI tools. As we know, AI can only work effectively with vast amounts of data and personalised at that. It will be interesting to see whether the law will be changed to take into consideration the scraping of data – not to mention whether it will help or hinder making ‘cookies’ obsolete.

Ironically, though, AI can assist in monitoring ad fraud detection, being able to identify certain things like ‘click fraud’ and ‘impression fraud’ helping agencies to avoid wasting investment specifically on direct response marketing.

As for creativity – a contentious and subjective subject – at the very least, AI should be able to provide insights into what type of creative content resonates with specific target audiences, enabling agencies and advertisers to develop more engaging and effective ad campaigns.

So, while AI can analyse data and patterns, it can’t (yet) fully understand the context of content. For instance, it can’t fully gauge a paper being printed the night before, or a news article breaking across broadcast media, or whether the proposed suitability of that advert is right. If a passenger plane was to suddenly crash, the advert opposite could be for a tour operator, which of course consumers would find offensive and counter-intuitive. We’ve already seen examples of this play out across digital programmatic planning.

Then again, the above would probably remain relevant with or without AI.

AI optimisation tools will only advance and learn quicker than humans. But it will need skilled people to manage and run that modelling, liaising with various departments to make sure that the creative, planning, and buying of any media campaign is as effective as possible based on the client’s needs.

So no, AI won’t signal the death knell for planners and buyers in the media. But it will be crucial for those roles to upskill and learn to wield AI as a tool for advancement.

By Robert Hicks, CEO


C-Screens fills a unique position in the video landscape and provides incremental reach enabling a seamless transition from a Broadcast to the out-of-home environment

Posted on: Monday 8 January 2024