Originally written by Patrick Coffee and published on WSJ.com on June 23, 2023.
Generative AI has already been used to create advertising materials and reduce a certain amount of grunt work. But one question hangs over marketers: How soon will it come for their jobs?
The timeline is unclear, but AI’s ability to draw on vast pools of data to help create ads could begin to outpace human performance in a foreseeable future. And pressure is growing to embrace the technology in the name of both enhanced productivity and costs savings—including through layoffs.
The biggest long-term impact, though, may be in how AI changes the nature of jobs in marketing. Executives say they will inevitably need to reconfigure workloads and recruit people with AI expertise, while some say the shifts will leave their teams with fewer employees and smaller budgets.
For now, CMOs want to determine how artificial intelligence can help with tasks such as replying to social-media posts and creating personalized messages for individual users, said Laura Beaudin, a partner at consulting firm Bain & Co.
“From a CMO’s perspective, they are going to need to be one of the first to have a very solid explanation of what it means and how they’re adopting it,” Beaudin said.
Marketers’ top goal for AI for now is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their campaigns, according to a survey conducted by market research firm NewtonX for The Wall Street Journal. When asked to name relevant objectives, 78% of marketers picked greater efficiency, while 63% said they think AI will help them produce new kinds of content.
Executives also think AI will help them cut costs by around 13% on average, according to the survey, with 6% calling this their No. 1 priority. Internal head count reductions will be the biggest source of those savings, according to 19% of survey participants. The median respondent also predicted they could cut two full-time employees from their brand marketing teams, thanks to AI.
A larger share, 52%, believes AI’s greatest source of savings will come from allowing marketers to reduce spending on third-party service providers, such as ad agencies, or to assign more valuable tasks to these parties. NewtonX surveyed 82 marketing executives at vice-president level or higher between late April and mid-May. Most work at companies of at least 500 employees and have final say on all marketing expenditures.
New titles and job cuts
When asked to name the biggest challenges that could arise from the use of generative AI, 48% of marketers in the NewtonX survey predicted that their own teams would shrink as these tools take on more responsibilities. Another 48% anticipated smaller marketing budgets over time.
A number of brand marketers have already begun exploring how they might produce the same amount of work with fewer people, or get more work out of their existing teams by using AI, said Wesley ter Haar, executive director of digital-marketing services company S4 Capital.
“It’s the No. 1 conversation we’re having. The more financial pressure they’re under, the more interested they are,” he said.
That said, job losses will remain modest for some time due to legal and regulatory uncertainty surrounding AI, according to market research firm Forrester.
Big-name brands are reluctant to attribute any reduction in their marketing departments to the use of AI. Tech companies, however, have been more straightforward. Of the 80,000 people whom U.S. employers said they laid off last month, 3,900 lost their jobs because of AI, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which takes its data from public announcements and filings. All 3,900 of those people worked at tech companies, according to a Challenger, Gray spokeswoman.
Dropbox, for example, cited AI in explaining a 16% cut to its workforce in April. Executives at OpenAI, whose ChatGPT is by far the most popular AI tool among surveyed marketers, have also predicted their technology will eliminate some jobs while creating others.
Already, CMOs are working to assuage employees’ fear of losing their jobs.
“We are consciously trying to remove the fear. We’re not looking to replace a job; we’re looking to do more with the same group,” said Orlando Baeza, chief revenue officer and head of marketing for logistics startup Flock Freight.
AI-driven changes in recruiting strategies are inevitable, Baeza said. Entry-level advertising creatives, for example, may soon trade junior copywriter jobs for new titles like “prompt copywriter”—and those who specialize in working from AI prompts will become especially valuable to marketers in the coming years, he said.
Flock Freight has already begun using marketing materials created almost entirely by AI platform Midjourney. A recent LinkedIn post reimagined freight trucks as Star Wars-inflected characters. In other display ads and corporate materials, a series of images depicted aerial views of trucks surrounded by flocks of birds, something all but impossible for a real-world photographer to capture, Baeza said.
For now the goal is efficiency
Predictions aside, AI isn’t a miracle cure for overworked marketing teams, and the amount of time required to train employees on these tools may even reduce productivity in the short term, said Simon Lusty, chief marketing officer at staffing firm Aquent, which specializes in filling temporary marketing roles.
Still, CMOs have already begun to quantify efficiency gains.
Creative teams can produce the same amount of work with 20% to 30% fewer people when using AI, said Domenic Colasante, chief executive of business-to-business marketing services firm 2X.
AI service Midjourney helped marketing firm Dept create a custom augmented-reality lens for eBay’s 2022 Comic-Con event seven times faster than in previous years—even after reducing the assigned team to one person from two, said Isabel Perry, vice president of emerging tech at Dept.
Wedding-planning company The Knot Worldwide recently began testing AI-generated email subject lines, one of which achieved a 20% higher open rate and 18% higher success rate for the message than an earlier, AI-free version of the same email, according to Chief Marketing Officer Jenny Lewis.
Moving forward, The Knot hopes to measure the degree to which its marketing team can use AI to complete routine requests more quickly, thereby freeing up time to work on more complex creative projects, said Lewis.
Despite these experiments, most of AI’s value remains firmly in the future, according to Beaudin at Bain.
“There is an expectation that things will become more efficient, but most of the activity at this point still requires adult supervision,” she said.