By Sarah Threet, Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing 

AI Benefits and Ethical Concerns

Top-performing companies are twice as likely to use Artificial intelligence (AI) for marketing functions and decisions; this is because AI utilizes machine learning coupled with consumer data and trend analysis in order to predict buying behavior. By imitating human decision-making, marketing teams can leverage AI in order to develop effective marketing strategies. However, because AI algorithmic models require data to learn and carry out marketing functions, how that data is collected, and then how that data is used to attract engagement are topics of ethical dispute. 

The following is a list of AI marketing benefits coupled with appropriate ethical considerations to be mindful of while conducting market research, developing marketing strategies, and creating content with AI: 

  • Benefit: AI can process and evaluate data in real-time and with precision and can inform marketers of the best tactics and channels to use right at any given moment. 
  • Ethical concern: Some AI tools may only function best when data compliancy laws are disregarded. For example, in order to comply with privacy laws, it’s typically easier to store consumer data locally rather than in the cloud, therein eliminating the potential use of cloud-based AI tools.  
  • Benefit: Hyper-personalized content increases customer satisfaction. You may even use this data to personalize content for leads in account-based marketing (ABM). 
  • Ethical concern: Obtaining the kind of data that allows for the creation of this hyper-personalized content may be in contention with data privacy laws. AI systems may also be built with biases or programmed to learn from current biases, which leads to prejudice and stereotyped content that does not actually market to its intended audience. 
  • Benefit: AI tools can create content, such as graphics, and writing, such as newsletters, social media posts, email curation, and social replies. This saves time through automation, which effectively saves on overhead, and maintains personalization and relevancy through learning. 
  • Ethical concern: This data may have been obtained unethically, using artist content for learning without consent, and in some cases, AI-created art beating out human artists in art competitions and for illustrator, developer, and designer positions. While there is an open debate about what constitutes art and how to credit AI art, the biggest concern about AI art is how the art used for learning was originally obtained. In the case of Lensa and Stable Diffusion, many artists have accused these models of using their art, without their consent, to create fast art that they may commercialize, which very well could be copyright infringement, as stated by data scientist (White House Task Force for AI Policy), Daniela Braga. These tools can even create realistic fake content, known as “deepfakes”, spreading disinformation and misinformation. 
  • Benefit: AI Chatbots that conduct real-time conversations with your customers, and in a personalized manner, to increase customer satisfaction, guide purchasing decisions, and save on time for human employees to work on developing new strategies.  
  • Ethical concern: This technology is concurrently being used to spam social media threads, both inundating social media users with advertisements for products and services and spreading problematic misinformation. 

AI and the Spread of Information and Disinformation 

Marketing is powerful for spreading information. As marketers, we want to use information in order to target intended demographics and guide them to some kind of engagement. AI technologies are developed by information and communication platforms for efficient and effective targeting. This technology unfortunately also makes the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation just as effective at reaching a large audience, thereby disseminating this false information further. This is how the power of marketing can get out of control.  

AI technology can create realistic fake content by manipulating text, producing images, and even developing audio and video. AI algorithms work together in “networks” to generate new data from existing datasets, and when applied through different types of content, the results are becoming more and more realistic. Fake content is becoming easier to pass off as real, and because of this realization, authentic information in turn is being dismissed as fake.  

Since AI is used to analyze psychographics and behavioral user profiles, these dis/misinformation campaigns can target and exploit specific vulnerable users, and the algorithm may trap them within an “echo chamber” that exposes them to only certain information, thereby removing elements of user autonomy, effecting searchability, and manipulating opinions. This has led to an “infodemic”, prompting action be taken through regulation and cracking down on data privacy laws.  

Ironically, AI can be used to also combat dis/misinformation by using machine learning to detect factual inaccuracies and a misleading writing style, but again, the information provided for learning has its own bias. Content may also be filtered, automatically removed, blocked, and/or deprioritized, once again begging the question of where the line is with regards to privacy and autonomy, and how invasive is it to human rights that we manipulate what people can and cannot access? 

How to use AI in an Ethical Manner Within Marketing 

This conversation is ever evolving, and it is evident that technology is developing at a faster rate than legislation.

The most important thing to consider, as an ethical marketer, is your audience’s preferences regarding what data of theirs you choose to collect and how you choose to use it moving forward. This includes being considerate about the databases you choose to patronize; where and how did they collect their data and was it a consensual and transparent collection?  Additional suggestions:  

  • Prioritize transparency
  • Follow data privacy legislation
  • Only collect sensitive data when necessary and be mindful of how it is stored
  • Explain the benefits of data collection to your customers to build trust and brand awareness
  • Potentially consider providing audience control over what data of theirs they consent to you collecting.  
  • Be mindful, again, that AI has been trained to use racial and gender biases that when used can spread harmful disinformation, as well as simply not target your intended market correctly, since it is attempting to target them with a lack of correct information – and quite possibly in a problematic manner.
  • In the cultivation of your brand and how you hope the public will perceive your brand, be mindful of how it can look to use AI for the development of graphic design and illustration. If you choose AI for these elements:
    • Support ethical datasets
    • Consider what works and what doesn’t about AI imagery
    • Credit and label AI-generated imagery appropriately (ex., “Rendered by [model], prompted by [author]”)
    • Don’t prompt using artist names
    • Support human artists
    • Support groups like the Concept Art Association lobbying to protect artists from AI technologies. 

It is truly possible to utilize and leverage the benefits of AI and be mindful of the ethical concerns.  Awareness is an important first step.  What new awareness do you now have to help you remain an ethical marketer? Let us know.