AI use in advertising an ‘opportunity’ not a threat, says WPP chief

The use of artificial intelligence for creative work in the advertising industry is more of an opportunity than a threat to traditional agencies, according to WPP chief executive Mark Read.

The world’s biggest advertising group was already using AI to “amplify” its creative work, he said, pointing to examples of “work with clients, using the main AI platforms, in-market today”.

Read told the Financial Times that WPP had been using AI and automation to improve media buying plans for clients for some years, but that the emergence of “generative AI” — using systems to help create campaigns — would be a “massive opportunity to optimise creative” work.

He added that the best creative teams were embracing AI as a tool to use in their campaigns.

The FT reported last week that Google was planning to launch generative AI tools that would allow advertisers to produce creative campaigns. Advertisers can feed information to the AI to “remix” into ad campaigns. Meta has announced similar plans. Coca-Cola is among advertisers testing consumer-facing generative AI.

However, there are still concerns about plagiarism — given AI needs to rely on existing source material — and the accidental production of misinformation or problematic content.

For advertising agencies, AI offers a means to cut costs and speed up processes but also offers a risk if more work shifts to low-cost, third-party AI platforms.

WPP said that AI would be “fundamental” to its business. The company is already using AI to automate workflows, accelerate the creative process and produce innovative work for clients.

In India, WPP worked with Cadbury’s to use AI to allow Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to produce personalised ads for local businesses.

The group is working with technology from all the main AI companies, including Adobe, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Nvidia and OpenAI, while using its own platforms to help protect client information. It said that it also recognised the “challenges of AI to society and are committed to using it responsibly”.

On Thursday, WPP reported an underlying rise in first-quarter revenue of 4.9 per cent to £3.5bn. Read said that the group had made “a positive start to the year, in line with expectations, reflecting continued spending by clients in communications, customer experience, commerce, data and technology to support their businesses and brands”.

Read said that client spending remained resilient as consumer goods companies had sought to “invest behind brands” while often pushing through inflation-linked price rises.

He added that companies had been surprised about the strength of their businesses despite these price increases.

Even so, he acknowledged that there were “challenges for the global economy” during the rest of the year, saying that he had always “expected a long and bumpy landing” as economic growth tailed off.

The company reported strong like-for-like sales growth in the UK of 7.4 per cent, although North America sales rose just 1.9 per cent given lower spending from clients in technology after the slump in valuations in the sector.

China was also weaker for WPP, which Read blamed on the effect of the Covid-19 lockdowns but he predicted that its business in the country would bounce back later this year. Shares in the group were down 2 per cent in morning trading.

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