August 13, 2019

How Condé Nast, Google, Coca-Cola and Other Top Companies Are Applying AI

by Ellen Mallernee Barnes in News

by Linda Descano, CFA, executive vice president, and Davitha Ghiassi, executive vice president 

Until recently, the role that artificial intelligence would play within major companies remained largely uncertain—a concern for the future. But AI is no longer the sci-fi-loving step-cousin twice removed. It is now the hero child that’s been entrusted with powering many brands into their next chapter.

As The Hill has just pointed out, AI suddenly has its paws on everything. Colleges are forming degree programs in AI. Governments are not only regulating AI research and execution, but encouraging it. And the United Arab Emirates has even appointed a minister of the state for artificial intelligence.

What’s all the fuss about? The discourse at the “The State of AI & Big Data in CPG” event we attended last week let there be no room for doubt: AI is no longer a soft launch. It’s a smart launch, pushing the envelope in terms of allowing companies to be smarter and better. Hosted by Dashmote, which founded its AI insight platform in Amsterdam in 2014, the event brought together a panel of AI enthusiasts from the likes of Condé Nast, Google and Coca-Cola.

Here’s what we heard from them:

Data visualization powered by AI will be the key to success for marketers, says Google

Search giant Google is putting AI to use to tackle problems that once had no solution. Maciej Szczepaniak, Google’s global strategy lead for omnichannel measurement, told us that 80 percent of what he does for the company now consists of applying products that have been around for a long time in a new way through AI.

“AI shortens the length between brand and consumer, especially in a constantly evolving context,” said Szczepaniak, who pointed to Director Mix as one of YouTube’s most exciting AI-powered tools. Allowing marketers to personalize a base video asset with relevant creative elements, the tool was activated by Coca-Cola at the Olympics in Brazil to generate relevant messages for its #ThatsGold campaign. The campaign celebrated gold moments that happen off the podium and was deployed in 50 countries.

AI shortens the length between brand and consumer.

—Maciej Szczepaniak, global strategy lead for omnichannel measurement, Google

Having outlined a vision that includes making AI accessible to every business, Google AI is pushing the boundaries of the field, making AI an engine for everything it does in the advertising space through personalized content and unprecedented customization.

“What will be really interesting to watch out for is the change management, which will take longer than it did with Google Search or Amazon Alexa,” predicted Szczepaniak. “Data visualization, powered by AI, is going to be the key to success for marketing and tech companies.”

Coca-Cola: Machine learning is “like having a thousand interns”

Coca-Cola has partnered with both Dashmote and Google to apply AI across its business. “For us, AI is about the problems we’re trying to solve, and how we solve them,” said Jeff Reine, Coca-Cola’s director of global digital strategy and business development. “It’s about connecting AI. I heard once that machine learning is like having a thousand interns.”

The company most frequently uses AI to test products and placements before it invests in them and to track how products are doing in certain markets.

I heard once that machine learning is like having a thousand interns.

— Jeff Reine, director of global digital strategy and business development, The Coca-Cola Company

“We have introduced so many different products in different markets, that for us it’s about deciding how we execute on business on that shelf,” said Reine. “It’s about knowing what works and what doesn’t through assortment optimization, and that is a constant problem. AI helps us do this faster and better.”

Your next issue of Vogue? Condé Nast will have used AI to determine its contents

One might presume that editorial content would be exempt from the influence of AI, but that’s not so. While intelligent computers may not be penning the articles, they are being used to scrutinize large corpuses of data to determine the topics of greatest interest to a readership.

Jason Schmidt, vice president of data solutions at Condé Nast, which owns the posh publication portfolio that includes Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue and many others, said AI now determines everything from what its writers will write about to which influencers it will engage.

“It drives subscriber acquisition, it drives our advertising strategy,” he said. “It has revolutionized how we do business as usual… When our editors are writing content and are trying to figure out the next Vogue print and digital publication, they rely on AI to do that. We are optimization-focused, test- and target- focused… AI and ML [machine learning] are going to push this savvy forward and separate the marketers that are truly on the ball versus those that fall behind.”

AI and ML [machine learning] are going to push this savvy forward and separate the marketers that are truly on the ball versus those that fall behind.

—Jason Schmidt, vice president of data solution, Condé Nast

So, what’s next for AI?

Some more of our key takeaways from the panel:

  • AI is empowering brands to become their own media companies—creating content that is targeted, tailored and timed at a hyperlocal or hypersegment level.
  • AI’s speed and scale are making brands better able to move at the speed of life, and in the process it’s replacing traditional research tactics, such as focus groups.
  • The insights produced by AI are pure gold for marketers, exponentially improving our understanding of what consumers want and giving us a better indication of how they will react to creative messages.
  • Now that more companies have gained an appreciation for big data and the boundless possibilities that AI creates for its application, marketers can feel confident that some of our best work is ahead of us.

Dennis Tan, co-founder and CEO of Dashmote, predicted, “AI will grow much more rapidly from this point onwards and be integrated into everyday experiences, becoming available to smaller companies who can learn from the big dogs that got to test the technology first. We’re now in a 1 percent AI-driven world, which will grow tremendously over the next three years.”