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“It’s 11:59pm on the eve of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution and one of the first industries to be impacted is marketing.” This was the opening statement at this year’s edition of BrainScape, the annual thought-leadership conference staged by PHD UAE (Omnicom Media Group). Held on October 12 at the Armani Hotel, the event introduced more than 240 marketing professionals to a future driven by AI, with all of its implications on the marketing industry.

Kevin Slavin, founder of Playful Systems Group and an assistant professor at MIT Media Lab, started by explaining how humans have always sought ways to learn what will happen to them before it does. “That has been the bulk of the movements in the 21st century”, said Slavin, and as a result, we have developed advanced algorithms that no longer require human input in order to learn and grow further. “We have collectively written something that we can no longer read. We are producing greater complexity in the systems that we use and a diminishing capability to understand what we’ve built.” However, relying solely on algorithms does not usually result in success, Slavin continued. The best approach is one that requires a cooperation between algorithms and humans, to create output that neither one could on their own.

Haroon Syed, director of digital data solutions at Annalect MENA, discussed the implications of algorithms on marketing, emphasizing the rise of virtual personal assistants (VPAs). “Long gone are the days of broad messages on groups of people we think will buy something,” said Syed. “VPAs will be the gateway between brands and consumers. We need to learn how to speak the language of VPAs and the focus for marketing will be to influence the algorithm and ensure VPAs surface your brand or product ahead of competitors. We may even see ads adopt a personality and talk directly to us.” He described how CRM and media will merge, with first party data driving all marketing activity to increase accuracy, and new creative routes will emerge along with business strategy.

The physical application of AI was further illustrated by Behshad Behzadi, a principal engineer at Google Zurich, through his live demonstration of the most recent developments in the company’s voice recognition, search and VPA capabilities. VPAs need to be able to answer questions about one’s world, as well as integrate with search and apps, in order to interpret the context of specific queries and deliver the best response possible. “Context is the situation you’re in. It’s very important to understand context to assist users in the right way,” said Behzadi. “We also have to analyze what’s visible on other apps like Facebook, in order to interpret the context of what you have seen so that your VPA can determine what action it should take next.” When asked by the audience whether the company intends to incorporate ads into their voice search product, Behzadi stated: “The answer is yes. But we want to do it in the right moment and the right way.”

“Our annual conference is designed to prepare marketers for what’s ahead of them. This is the best way to future-proof their strategies and ensure their continued success,” said Elda Choucair, managing director of PHD UAE. “This year, BrainScape focused on the developments, implications and applications of artificial intelligence for consumers and brands. AI will have profound and positive effects on our roles and it’s all about making better decisions. Every new situation presents both challenges and opportunities and we at PHD are already exploring them.”

PHD’s BrainScape conference was produced with Choueiri Group’s dedicated digital media representation unit, Digital Media Services (DMS), as strategic partner. DMS handles a premium portfolio of regional online and mobile media, aiming to strengthen the value and effectiveness of the digital communication solutions, which the Group extends to brands and advertisers.

Speaking on DMS’ long-standing association with the event, Chief Operating Officer, Michel Malkoun, added: “BrainScape continues to grow as a top-notch platform for regional marketers and advertisers and we’re very glad to have played a role in its success. This year’s edition once again featured insightful speakers, who cast invaluable perspectives on what our industry’s future holds.”

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