Apr 25, 2024 - Business

Brand marketers grapple with AI's influence

Illustration of an advertising billboard in the shape of a speech bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a not too distant future, it will be common practice for everyone to have their own personalized AI agent to field emails, share news or plan vacations.

Why it matters: If artificial intelligence-supported chatbots begin to dominate people's attention, communicators and marketers will seek to influence the chatbots' conversations.

The big picture: This could be the next mutation of search engine optimization (SEO).

  • Because consumers, employees and investors are increasingly relying on large language models (LLMs) — like ChatGPT or Google's Gemini — to answer questions or give recommendations, brands are increasingly concerned with how these tools are representing them.
  • Companies want to make sure their brand-approved language is used and that they are not associated with problematic messaging or narratives.
  • For example, financial firms do not want LLMs to associate them with terminology like "ESG" or "woke" during an election year, per Fast Company.

What they're saying: When fielding inquiries about businesses, events or historical figures, LLM's responses come with higher stakes given the potential for bias or misinformation, digital marketing strategist Chris Gee told Axios.

  • "If you ask AI to tell [you] about the labor situation at Starbucks, what is it going to say? That answer is going to influence how people might think about that brand's reputation moving forward," Gee said.

Some brand marketing specialists are looking for ways to influence LLMs with accurate — and positive — information about their company or product, according to Gee.

  • "[They] need to be able to define exactly the type of information that goes in, because if someone asks ChatGPT for a restaurant recommendation, for example, and [their]restaurant is withholding its information and data, then it's not going to recommend it."

Zoom in: Reddit is experiencing a similar phenomenon, according to a 404 Media report.

  • After Google announced it would use Reddit content to train its LLMs, AI-powered services — or bots — started popping up on the platform to automatically mention and plug products across appropriate Reddit threads.

What to watch: There's ongoing discussion in the marketing and communications space around the ethics of manipulating or influencing AI outputs.

  • "The wheels are up and it's inevitable that AI becomes as mainstream as SEO," says brand and marketing expert Jen Kling. "But with that could also come a massive stream of data chaos, lack of oversight, inherent bias and the potential for more mis-disinformation."

💭Thought bubble from Axios AI+ author Ryan Heath:

  • "AI is transformative, but the emergence of an industry dedicated to shaping AI models to reflect corporate PR positioning is not an obvious transformation Silicon Valley engineers plan for. This is another reminder of why broad conversations are needed about AI rules and guardrails."
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