Are You An AI-Proof Marketer?

We who embraced technology may end up being eaten by it.


I often wonder what it must be like living through the past few years for marketers who can remember operating in a pre-internet era. The fact that we can put live thousands of creative variants, let a machine decide the best performer and upweight it accordingly. That we can optimize a media mix using real conversion data within days, if not hours. In fact using programmatic, we don't even need to optimize it ourselves. The fact that we can reach more people on earth than God with a smartphone and a Facebook Ads Manager log in. (credit to Scott Galloway for that last one).

No doubt, technology has made both the art and the science of marketing exponentially more efficient. But it has also made it more complex. A proliferation of media options, managed via complex interfaces such as Adwords (although the UI has simplified recently). An ocean of data to analyze and pore over in the pursuit of optimization. All this has created jobs and skill sets that simply didn’t exist prior to the late 90s. PPC manager, Email marketer, Display marketer, SEO Manager, App Install Marketer – the list is large. In fact, the breadth of skills required to be an effective integrated Marketing Manager these days is incredible. 

Because of the continual increase in complexity and fragmentation, I’ve always felt fairly confident that Marketing was a profession which was quite safe from being replaced by AI in the short term. There's plenty of simpler jobs to automate before you get to us, right?! But it seems that was naïve.

Google Lead The Charge

Recent news of Google doing away with all Adwords app install formats in favour of Universal App Campaigns signals a concerning trend. No more will a human have to analyze keywords, select behavioral targets, test copy variants, organize campaigns, ad groups and bids. Simply plug in creative (or let it auto-create your creative), select your geo targeting and bid preference – and put it live. Google will do the work of optimizing between search, display and video ads for you. All at the expense of transparency and control, mind you.

This shows us that much of a PPC manager's role in general may soon go the way of the dodo if such automation spreads throughout the Adwords suite.

Just this week I was introduced to a company who specialize in retention marketing. Their system allows a marketer to design creative, set cohort logic, and press send. The system will optimize subject lines, day of week, days lapsed, time of day and more according to a success metric. Much of the role of Email Marketer evaporated before me.  

Even customer service and social media managers are under threat from Facebook Messenger bots. So it seems even the most highly skilled technical marketing roles are far from AI-proof.

How To Become an AI-Proof Marketer

I think it helps here to think about the skills a robot would find hard to replicate or usurp. More crucially, which combination of skills would AI find difficult to combine?

Think about this for long enough and you may wind up back in the smoke filled Mad Men-esque offices of yesteryear and the skills which were coveted back then. Segmentation. Brand positioning. Tone of Voice. Understanding your audience. You know – the 'boring' stuff. The strategic stuff. The hard stuff. Skills and experiences which have been derided, undervalued and replaced by ‘spreadsheet jockeys’ (as Mark Ritson would call them) in recent years. More generally, leadership and people skills are going to become more important and sought after than ever as well. 

I believe the human marketer of the future is T shaped. The horizontal bar of the T represents an understanding of technology adept enough to choose the right tools for each task, and construct a solid ecosystem of automation. The vertical of the T represents a deep experience and understanding of those core strategic decisions and behaviors a machine cannot replicate (at least not for a few decades).

The abstract thinking that tends to be required to solve creative and strategic problems is something marketers should be cultivating to become robot-proof. So my advice to young marketers would be to step away from the spreadsheet every now and then – and start learning the basics of Strategic Marketing and Leadership. 

Think about your role, your skillset. Are you an AI-proof Marketer? Can you become one?


Five Of The Worst Marketing #Fails In History

Everyone can get it wrong sometimes. But there's failing and then there's epic failing. Presented here are some of the worst marketing #fails of all time and the lessons we can learn. No, I'm not including 'New Coke' as that's been done enough, plus I'm still not sure if it was such a fail after all. They got a LOT of coverage during that. Cringe or laugh your way through some of these and tell me some of your favorite fails! 

1. The Jagermeister Pool Party

Jagermeister, the shot of choice for Germans and pissheads of assorted nationalities, decided it was would be a great idea to throw a pool party. The idea of mixing high strength liquor, college students and swimming pools already sounds like an accident waiting to happen, but the brand found a way to make it even more awesome. What if the pool had liquid nitrogen in it, to create cool misting effects?!



What they didn't realize was that when you mix liquid nitrogen with chlorine, you create a military grade chemical warfare agent: nitrogen trichloride. That'll break up even the best pool party in Vegas in a hurry.  Partygoers began coughing and passing out almost immediately and one ended up in a COMA for 18 days. Imagine a scene from a World War I trench during a mustard gas attack, but with techno music and bikinis.  

Ultimately, the result was a waste of money, bad PR and the potential for lawsuits (though as far as I can tell surprisingly no damages were awarded). Jagermeister really dodged a bullet on this one. 

Marketing Lesson: Don't cut corners, especially with experiential activations. DO YOUR RESEARCH and work with reputable events planning companies. 

2. 'Pepsi Stuff'='Pepsi Bluff'

Back in 1995, Pepsi came up with a new way to encourage consumers to buy their sugar filled cans of diabetes. 'Pepsi Stuff' rewarded consumers with items like sunglasses and leather jackets (XXL only judging by the TV ad) in exchange for them collecting ring pulls. Here's the amazingly 90s TV spot showcasing one of copywriting's weaker moments: "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff". Well, comprehension should be high I guess.  

Cute right, the harrier jump jet at the end? That plane was valued at around $50M back in 1995. It's obviously a little joke right? Not a funny joke, but a joke nonetheless. The problem was, hidden in the terms and conditions, consumers could buy Pepsi points for 10 cents a piece. So 7 million Pepsi points could be bought in cash for just $700,000. That's exactly what a 21 year old John Leonard, a business studies student who had studied flawed promotions, did. He raised $700K and sent a letter to Pepsi asking when to expect delivery of his Harrier. 

Pepsi refused and 3 years later in federal court a judge ruled in their favour, concluding "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet". But I'm not so sure....let off for Pepsi I reckon. 

Marketing Lesson: Check your terms and conditions carefully and try to hack your own contests. Are there any loopholes? Don't sign off on any creative which makes any claim or offer you can't fulfil - even in jest.  

3. Idiotic Client Tries To Save Money With 'Guerilla Marketing' - Loses $2M

In 2007 the Cartoon Network hired a PR firm to promote their upcoming full length movie based on the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Whether the brief asked for 'guerilla' tactics or the agency went in that direction of their own accord is anyone's guess. Well, it was 2007. Around that time I was asked to pay students to put stickers on toilet doors in student unions. I was working on a national multi million dollar brand. One of the most idiotic suggestions I've ever heard, and I have heard some zingers.


Anyway, problem was the creative they used and the fact they decided to stick these things to prominent buildings and public structures in a post-9/11 world, without consulting police or authorities. Cue a full on city-wide bomb scare in Boston, resulting in a fine of $2M for Cartoon Network not only for their initial idiocy, but also the fact even after the bomb scare was in full swing they didn't notify authorities

Marketing Lesson: Don't try and do 'cool' campaigns which are 'free' because you're cheap. If it was that easy to market stuff for free everyone would be doing it. If you insist on doing 'guerilla' type nonsense, always, always get permissions and licenses from local authorities first. 


4. 'Just for feet' go nuclear fail

Of all the fails featured here, this one is probably my favourite. A monumental fuck up on so many fronts: taste, ad planning, creative logic, legal nous, it's all in here. Shoe superstore Just For Feet were doing so well in the 1990s that they decided it was time to go big. Superbowl big. Their $7M promotion would feature a 30 second TV spot during the 3rd quarter of Superbowl XXXIII in which viewers were invited to call a hotline for a chance to win a Hummer. Pretty standard, if uninspiring, stuff. Here's the first logic fail. Why did they want people to call in? Of what benefit is that to a shoe superstore? Why didn't the ad encourage them to go buy a pair of shoes within 3 days to win the Hummer? Anyway, that was the least of their worries. 


Ever seen the Jean Claude Van Damme film, Hard Target? Well, the creatives on this brief at Saatchi & Saatchi had. In the movie, rich psychopaths pay to hunt human beings - like, properly hunt them with rifles, as if they were wild game. 


Yes indeed, they created an ad with some guys in a Hummer hunting a man running across an African plain. White guys. Hunting a barefoot African man running away from them. (This is the taste fail part, btw).

Well, these guys didn't have rifles at least, but they did poison the runner's water. This is the logic fail part I. Who is handing out cups of water in the African Savannah? Why? If the guys in the Hummer know they've poisoned his water, why are they chasing the runner at top speed? Who is this Kenyan man who can outrun a Hummer if only his water wasn't spiked? Just.....  Dafuq?

Incredibly, it gets stranger. The Just For Feet hunters, it turns out, actually only wanted to equip him with some running shoes and then 'release' him back into the wild. He awakes, to discover his new shoes and screams "Noooooooooooo!". Much like a horse which is forcibly shoed and then trots away trying to shake off the horse shoes until it gets used to them. Really. The ad closes with the Kenyan runner trying to 'shake off' the running shoes. So, a guy would rather run barefoot than in your shoes? Logic fail part II. Taste fail part II. 

It gets worse. The ad aired in the 4th quarter, not the third as planned.Viewers were asked to call in and answer how many times 'Just For Feet' was shown on screen during the 3rd quarter. The correct answer was zero. But the contest didn't allow zero as an answer, so entrants were left feeling like it was a scam. Ad planning fail.

Yet, it got worse. Just For Feet attempted to sue Saatchi & Saatchi for malpractice, claiming that they were 'forced to run' the spot. In turn, S&S and Zenith sued Just For Feet for the unpaid $3M media bill. 

You may not be surprised to hear Just For Feet are no longer in business. 

Marketing Lesson: Good God, where to start. I mean just don't be a total clown in every aspect of campaign management would be the main lesson. 


It's often said that brands should stay out of politics. On average, taking a political stance will endear you to 50% of the audience, and piss off the other 50%. Unless you target demographic is actually people with one persuasion or the other. Pepsi however pulled off and amazing feat by alienating both sides of the aisle and 100% of people. In their shameless attempt to virtue signal and jump on the 'zeitgeist' of demonstrations and protests, they made a spot in which sharing a can of Pepsi heals the world's ills. Insensitive, poorly timed, virtue signalling crap. 

They pissed off people who support the protests because they trivialized some very real issues and tried to use real social unrest to flog cans of liquid diabetes. Many of these people dislike capitalism and Pepsi's response seems to be "We're one of you, we hate 'the man' too! Now STFU and buy a can of Pepsi will you".

They pissed off people who don't support the protests because they made all the protestors seem like young, attractive, friendly fun lovers just out to protest for peace. Who doesn't want peace? If you don't support the protests WTF is wrong with you? It's just light hearted fun! Even though many of these protests have actually featured some pretty choice violence and chants. Really, a drastic over simplification. 

And really I suppose the heart of it is, everything they are showing in the ad has ZERO to do with Pepsi and Pepsi has ZERO authority to be making any kind of social comment. 

Lastly they chose to use Kendall Jenner in it. Nuff said. The ad was roundly slammed and pulled off air almost immediately. The only thing mildly amusing about the ad is that in the full length version the song appears to be saying 'fail' over and over. The online backlash featured some hilarious zingers.

Marketing Lesson: Brands, stay the fuck away from politics, please. It's a needless, kamikaze risk. If you're going to go there, go there like Heineken. DO NOT venture your own opinion. A brand is not a person and has no right to do so.