Is radical honesty better in the era of AI?

SOUNDING BOARD: WPP's CEO Mark Read recently admitted the company is using AI to cut costs. As investment in the space ramps up, is it better for industry leaders to be upfront about the impact it will have, be it good or bad?

Is radical honesty better in the era of AI?
Mark Read, CEO of WPP, revealed in an interview this week that the company is already making signficant savings by using AI-generated ads.
His revelation comes at a time when some of the largest advertisers in the world are experimenting with employing generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E to save costs and boost productivity.
Speaking with Reuters, Read said that WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, is collaborating with Nestle and Mondelez (the producer of Oreos) to deploy generative AI in marketing campaigns.
"The savings can be 10 or 20 times," Read revealed in the interview. "Rather than flying a film crew down to Africa to shoot a commercial, we've created that virtually."
As investment in AI ramps up in the industry, Campaign asks: Is it better for industry leaders to be relentlessly positive about AI, knowing that it will also bring job losses and tough times for a lot of people, or instead be as upfront and transparent about the inequities it may bring forward?
We put this question to several people in the industry to find out whether or not, when it comes to the impacts of AI, honesty truly is the best policy?
Kerry Wilson
Managing director, Rehab Studios
"Yes, always! If industry leaders are sitting on information that would be useful for employees to have access to, outlining how and when AI will impact their roles and the industry at large, they should absolutely share it. 
Machines and computers will replace humans in job functions for sure—this is nothing new either, it's something that's been happening for centuries. In the same way that humans needed to pivot before, they need to do the same now.
Your role as it stands will not be the same in the future as it is now, but isn't that a good thing? It's a game changer for sure, but it certainly isn't all doom and gloom— grow with the technology and embrace the endless possibilities it brings to you and your career. And accept that no industry leader can predict exactly how and when AI will impact the people in our businesses—that's why it's not being shared—because no one knows for sure, not because there's a big red button waiting to be pushed where one-day machines replace your role like-for-like."
Sraman Majumdar
Senior VP and ECD, Brave New World
"The short answer is a very loud yes. This is a moment when prioritising transparency is both the ethical, and the self-serving thing for industries to do. Generative AI is here for keeps and it will continue to integrate into the workflow. ‘Ethical responsibility’ would entail openly discussing its benefits and limitations; preparing employees for potential changes in their roles, mitigating job insecurity, and offering timely reskilling or upskilling.
‘Self-serving responsibility’ would require demystifying AI, helping employees understand how it augments their skills rather than replaces them. The tech must be humanised before it is harnessed.
It is clear that the most effective advertising will continue to be an essentially human enterprise in insight, originality and left-of-centre swings for the foreseeable future. The glorification of AI beyond tool status is hurtful to that foundation. Radical honesty is not just a good idea, it’s the only move for a sustainable and inclusive future for employees."
Nathan McDonald
Co-founder and group CEO, We Are Social
"AI is a broad and evolving platform for all businesses, and agencies should be upfront about investments and cost savings in AI. With generative AI being so hot, the production use case is getting a lot of attention. Yet the acceleration of ideas, insights and predictions across creative and media is at least as interesting. Don’t forget to keep an eye on how your clients’ business is being disrupted too."
Kunal Sinha
Group chief strategy officer, M&C Saatchi Indonesia
"Seriously, are we even living in an era where technology can be kept under wraps?
Agencies have embraced AI with gusto. They’re using MidJourney to create storyboards, to come up with brand identity options in quick time, ChatGPT to do the research, and a host of tools to create characters in 3D. 
While the fears about job losses began circulating as soon as Forrester released its report around the Cannes Festival, forecasting that around 33,000 (or 7.5%) of jobs would be lost to automation by the start of the next decade, the same report also predicted that digital and strategy headcount would grow by 20% by 2028.
Agency leaders who have their head in the sand invite obsolescence. Clients expect agencies to leverage AI to improve productivity and faster turnaround, employees demand training and subscriptions. Leaders have little option than to do an honest, transparent appraisal of the potential and pitfalls, as they implement AI solutions."  
Rishi Bedi
Managing director, APAC, InMobi 
“Ultimately, it is best for leaders to be open and honest about how their organisations are leveraging AI. Personally, I believe that AI is empowering teams rather than replacing them. It's like a tool that's helping people be more efficient and productive. It reduces the time consumed by highly manual and repetitive tasks and allows teams to focus their energies on far more meaningful and impactful areas. For example, we've recently incubated and deployed several AI resources at the heart of our strategic initiatives, and our turnaround time for highly complex ad development has decreased by 75%. This has been possible because we're focused on upskilling our existing teams to use these tools.”
Daniel Willis
Chairman & CEO, Claxon
"In this bold new era of AI-infused advertising, as agencies and brands wrestle with what it truly means for them, transparency is non-negotiable. 
Not only is it ethically important, but a huge selling point that agencies either regularly undervalue or shy away from. Advertisers leaning into AI can extract significant competitive advantage by allowing them to do much more, with much less budget. Recently, we crafted a generative AI-led national campaign that allowed the client to redirect a lot of funds to media that traditionally would have been spent on the campaign’s creative. This in turn provided a significantly better outcome for the client. Where it gets sticky is when agencies try to mask their meaningful use of AI, all in the name of margin. Advertisers big and small shouldn’t be afraid to forge new paths and should be shouting it from the rooftops as they do!" 
Sebastian Dodds-Painter
AI implementation manager, Icon Agency
"AI is at something of a crossroads: It’s incredibly powerful, it’s only getting better, and it's excelling both at helping workers get more done, and at replacing them. One of these has much nicer sentiment to it.
Trust is difficult to earn, and very easy to lose. The reality is if you’re using AI to replace workers, consumers will find out eventually, and they won’t be happy.
Maybe asking if honesty is the right policy is just the wrong question, because if we’re being honest (and I really hope we are), honesty should be the only policy. At the end of the day, if you need to be dishonest, there’s a good chance you’re doing the wrong, or at least very unpopular thing."
Bruce Temkin, 
Head of the XM Institute, Qualtrics
"Industry leaders should absolutely be transparent. That’s a good approach for just about any situation. However, they need to shift their thinking around AI before they share their plans.
If an organisation is looking at AI for the pure purposes of cost-cutting or automation, then it is already heading down the wrong path. One in which its focus is being diverted away from the purpose it serves to the technology that it uses. No one wants to do business with, or work for, a company because it uses AI. People want to connect with organisations that successfully fulfil a purpose they care about.
Leaders need to rethink their AI plans with a singular frame of mind: How can we use AI to help us achieve our mission and deliver on the purpose of our organisation? This question should shape the AI investments they make, the projects they undertake, and the future vision for the organisation. This point of view also needs to be the frame they use to honestly communicate their AI plans."
Liam McCarten
Tech and media adviser
"Right now, there is an easy to paint narrative that AI will replace jobs, especially within the creative industry—I personally think this is an overtly extreme view based on what history has shown us to this point. In my opinion, while Gen AI will have a significant impact on the industry, it will augment creativity vs. replace it.
The creative community is not new to technology-led disruption, in fact it is an industry that is incredibly robust to change. Even in the last decade the shift from traditional formats i.e. TV to mobile has not radically changed their commercial trajectory—they have had to evolve in line with both tech and consumer behaviour changes.
However, generative AI has the potential to radically alter “how” the creative community operates, especially in how they manage the “value chain” of content ideation, production and delivery. Specifically, we’ll see more and more automation reduce costs in the manual stages of  the creative process i.e. scaled copywriting, key visual development & content adaptation."
Humphrey Ho
Managing partner, Hylink
"Agencies and marketers must approach AI with transparency. Envisioning the future, our firm anticipates a threefold surge in employee productivity. We could see a 30% reduction in team size across different areas, and have already witnessed a systemwide 10% reduction across the firm. Our approach with candidates remains candid and transparent, and we facilitate the appropriate use of AI tools without overreliance.
AI-generated ads significantly cut production costs by 10 times, echoing Mark Read's insights. This innovation also reduces ideation time by 50% and minimizes media and web development errors by 50% or more. Furthermore, AI has led to over 50% more code generation in our web and tech teams, halving QA bugfix tickets. This results in improved client engagement and overall satisfaction."
Missy Burrell
Group client director, social, Bastion Amplify
"In the age of AI, radical honesty is not only a moral imperative but a strategic advantage. As a firm believer in transparent communication, I view the insight into AI's cost-cutting potential as a step in the right direction. The reluctance and fear surrounding AI often stem from unfamiliarity, and by openly discussing its impact on our industry, we demystify its role. It's not just about embracing innovation; it's about dispelling mistrust. Transparency, or the lack thereof, drives sentiment more than optimisation does.
I'm committed to monitoring the job landscape as AI adoption accelerates. While cost savings and heightened productivity are certain gains, I foresee a surge in new roles to fine-tune AI's capabilities. Honest conversations empower us to shape this AI era positively, ensuring that while automation reshapes certain aspects, it paves the way for fresh opportunities and skillsets. Radical honesty isn't just about shedding light on AI's potential; it's about fostering a foundation of trust and understanding for a future we can collectively embrace."
Katya Obolensky
Managing director, VCCP Singapore
"At VCCP we believe that AI will accelerate learning and unlock new opportunities, which is why we launched our AI agency faith. Transparency is one of our founding principles, so we absolutely agree that the industry should be upfront about the likely impacts of AI. But we disagree that AI’s impacts are negative and will erode human creativity.
Many doom-mongers fear job losses with technological advances, yet it is vital to see the potential for new career opportunities AI will create. We’re putting AI to use in real world applications and we can only do this by applying our own expertise and human creativity to those scenarios. This is not as simple as experimenting with AI without aim, it takes a massive amount of knowledge and skill to get good results.
AI allows us to do things that were not possible mere months before. It will make some processes simpler and cheaper, opening doors to new ground-breaking work that was either cost-prohibitive or previously impossible. These new approaches and the highly skilled human creatives who develop them will continue to deliver huge value to clients - it’s not about slashing costs, but putting budgets to work on opening new frontiers and breaking new ground."
Marc Wesseling
Co-founder and CEO, UltraSuperNew
"As an independent creative agency we are always fully transparent with our clients and instead of seeing AI solely as a cost cutting tool, we see AI as a great way to accelerate the creative process, which makes us even more agile versus the giant agencies.
We invest a lot in AI in order to stay ahead of the game and go beyond using AI for just creativity. We are currently working with a few AI platforms to optimise the ROI of media-buy and reporting and the results are amazing—our clients are happier than ever and we still have a healthy margin."
Yang Han
Co-founder and CTO, StackAdapt 
"A company's goal with respect to AI may be heavily dependent on the type of company and the stage of maturity they are in.
For growth-stage companies, AI has the opportunity to accelerate business growth more efficiently without increasing headcount at the same pace. By increasing employee efficiency and cutting out mundane processes, employees can focus more on the strategic and creative aspects of their role. A common misconception is that roles will always be replaced completely, which is not true, and more transparency within the company on this matter would help address concerns on this topic.
Mature companies, on the other hand, may potentially aim to utilize AI to shed existing costs and headcount. Ideally, these companies can set up training programs to shift focus to the governance of AI and other strategic aspects of the role, as AI technology often requires human oversight to function properly."
Alexis Crowell
Vice president, Asia, Intel
"I believe artificial intelligence has the profound possibility to help people live, work, and learn better—more efficiently, more effectively, and with more ease. With any new tool introduction, there will be changes to how people utilise those tools - think back to when farming first went from hand-picking and hand-tools to leveraging machinery. We wouldn't be able to feed the world today without those advancements.
There's also a significant labour gap in a number of areas and artificial intelligence can help fill those gaps. For example, the service industry is struggling to find employees today, adding AI compute into those environments can help fulfil customer expectations. Or the global shortage of skilled radiologists, we can help speed ultrasound readings with AI to make it easier on the radiologists to diagnose issues. AI also promises the opportunity to create many new AI related jobs especially in software and data science. With the right companies focused on responsibly implementing artificial intelligence, the world can be a better place."
Chris Vincent
Chief international officer, Pattern
"All companies in our space should strive for transparency in how they leverage AI to accelerate their businesses. It’s the right thing, ethically, and it’s the right thing for the consumer.
AI represents an immense opportunity for companies to do more with the same resources. The truth is, if brands are not leveraging AI, they simply won’t be able to maintain their competitive advantage.
Most importantly, business leaders need to adopt an AI ethics framework that is based on transparency and trust from day one, especially about the impact that AI has within their respective organisations.
AI has been core to our growth since our early days at Pattern. We’re laser-focused on helping brands accelerate their growth on major online marketplaces all over the globe, and our patented AI has been a key driver in helping us with these goals. We tend to think of this latest wave of generative AI as an opportunity for our current team members to do even more and make an even bigger impact with better and better tools."
Antoine Gross, 
General manager, Southeast Asia,
"Regardless of industry, stakeholders and leaders need to openly address the potential impact of AI in their fields. As AI continues to rapidly evolve, keeping such information under wraps can lead to uncertainty and resistance, hindering any industry's ability to navigate the changes and opportunities presented by this technology.
In marketing, AI plays a transformative role by leveraging data analysis, predictive analytics, and machine learning to enhance various aspects of the consumer journey. It can help to create personalised experiences through tailored content and recommendations, predict trends and customer behaviours, and automatecampaigns.
When it comes to influencer marketing for instance, AI can be a tool for brands to optimise their campaigns—be it in finding the right influencer/creators to partner with, identifying content that resonates best with their audience, or in efficiently tracking influencer performance and the campaign’s overall success. Thus in this case, AI helps both brands and consumers by serving more relevant content, leading to increased engagement and conversions.
But while AI provides these benefits in influencer marketing, it still can’t replace the value of the human element. Hence, brands must ensure to find the right blend of personification and AI-driven insights to successfully manage and scale their campaigns."
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Sounding Board: APAC experts speak on marketing and comms issues


(This article first appeared on Campaign Asia)

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