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Report: 70% of marketers plan to use Gen AI

November 10, 2023

Socio-political polarisation, the potential of generative AI, masculinity in crisis, ‘sportswashing’, and community-based sustainability are five key trends that have reached an inflection point and will shape global marketing strategies in 2024, according to WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2024. 

The trend identification for the report is based on WARC’s new proprietary GEISTE methodology (Government, Economy, Industry, Society, Technology, Environment). It further incorporates a global survey of 1,400+ marketing executives, one-to-one interviews with CMOs, industry commentary, and analysis, data and insights from WARC’s global team.

Aditya Kishore, Insight Director, WARC, commented: “Marketers globally continue to be concerned about the economic picture with 64 per cent of survey respondents seeing it as the biggest factor in 2024 planning. But a majority (61 per cent) of firms expect improved business performance next year, up 10 per cent from last year. WARC forecasts global adspend to grow 8.2 per cent in 2024, topping $1 trillion for the first time. As consumer insights become ever more critical to aid success, The Marketer’s Toolkit runs through some of the emerging threats and opportunities marketers will face as they look for sources of growth.”

The top five trends outlined in WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2024 are: 

  • Unlocking the potential of Gen AI: Nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of marketers plan to unlock the potential of AI in their marketing 

Generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) has crossed the threshold from promise to practical deployment, overhauling media strategies and audience targeting. 2024 will see brands look to capitalise on the emergence of accessible Gen AI tools to experiment with creative development.

Nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents to the Marketer’s Toolkit survey plan to unlock the potential of AI in their marketing, 12 per cent of which will look to adopt the technology wherever they can and over half (58 per cent) describe themselves as “cautiously progressive”, actively testing and evaluating Gen AI in marketing.

However, such opportunities come with potential risks including brand safety, copyright, sustainability and agency remuneration.

Jonathan Halvorson, Global SVP, Consumer Experience & Digital Commerce, Mondelēz, commented: “The question is, how do you build [AI] into a scaled organisational competency? That is the obsession of every single day, every single week for the next 18 months. Because it’s a race you have to win.”

  • Preparing for the age of polarisation: 13 per cent of marketers said the best strategy is to “drop all ‘purpose’ driven strategies and political positions”

Political ideologies have become increasingly entrenched in marketing. However, with high-profile brands caught in the polarisation crossfire, there are signs of increased timidity regarding social causes.

While 76 per cent of Marketer’s Toolkit respondents advise standing ground in the face of controversy, 13 per cent pursue the path of least risk saying that the best strategy is to “drop all ‘purpose’ driven strategies and political positions.”

When addressing polarizing issues, brands should examine their audience through cultural and demographic lenses, and scenario-plan against any potential fallout.

Speaking at the recent ANA Masters of Marketing conference, Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer, Procter & Gamble, said: “We serve diverse consumers. That requires precision to serve in ways that are relevant and better for each person, so we can unlock the potential. Inclusion to serve all people and each person matters for market growth.”

  • Masculinity in crisis: Almost two out of three marketers (63 per cent) agree that the way they communicate with young men needs to change 

Around the world, young men are increasingly being marginalised both socially and economically and struggling with their mental health. In their search for a contemporary identity, some are being drawn to toxic role models online.

Almost two out of three marketers (63 per cent) agree that they need to shift their advertising and influencer selection strategies to reflect emerging models of masculinity that offer positive and helpful messages to young men.

While there will be mounting pressure to eliminate stereotypical male depictions in advertising, there will also be those who will attack the brand for being too woke if they do so.

During Advertising Week in October, Stephanie Jacoby, SVP/Brand marketing, Diageo, said: “As an alcohol advertiser, we’ve certainly contributed to this culture, […but] we are starting to make the change that we need to see. It’s really time now that we open the aperture […] which broadens how men are depicted beyond, and so replaces a single, undifferentiated idea of masculinity with a multi-faceted view of what this term can encompass.”

  • ‘Sportswashing’ is a growing concern: 61 per cent of marketers concur that it is “very important” for sports organisers and owners to avoid being politically divisive.

In a fragmented media landscape, sports remain a natural passion point for brands to leverage. It delivers mass real-time audiences, yielding a growing competition for media rights, fresh content and sponsorship opportunities.

Critics allege this is resulting in the rise of ‘sportswashing’ whereby entities accused of a poor human rights track record invest in sports to bolster their reputation. 61 per cent of Marketer’s Toolkit respondents concur that it is “very important” for sports organisers and owners to avoid being politically divisive.

Opportunities for marketers include developing new content formats, engaging with growing sports and different communities, and data-driven insights to track performance and fan attitudes.

James Williams, Investor/Advisor, Nobody Studios, said: “There’s a danger with the term ‘sportswashing’, because it becomes one of those words that’s now thrown around all over the place for when people don’t like something, especially in the world of sport.

  • Sustainability should be locally relevant: Nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) of marketers are investing in local communities

While sustainability marketing will become more interconnected to other functions, marketers and agency leaders must double down on changing what they solely control. Investing in local communities was cited by nearly two-fifths of survey respondents (38 per cent), followed by advertising production (26 per cent) and media decarbonisation (21 per cent).

Marketers should pivot to smaller, local and community-based sustainability initiatives to power their green agenda and help their brands build credible consumer trust.

Janet Neo, Chief Sustainability Officer, North Asia & China, L’Oréal , commented: “We adopt a personalized approach at L’Oréal, emphasising a ‘Glocalization Strategy.’ While the strategy’s framework is global, we consider local specificities when implementing it. We engage with local communities because we believe in respecting local culture and insights. […] We believe that the local cultural context can help us define the priorities or the key areas we should focus on.”

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