How AI will shape ad tech and marketing: A Q&A with GumGum’s Ben Plomion

We’re on the cusp of an artificial intelligence revolution. From tech companies (like Google and Salesforce) to auto giants like General Motors, enterprises from different industries are investing in AI. One study suggests that the AI market’s value will reach $3,061 billion by 2024.

There’s very little doubt that AI’s impact will be far reaching, but how will this technology influence the way companies market their products and services?

For answers, we turned to Ben Plomion, the chief magic officer at the AI company GumGum. In this Q&A, Plomion also shared how skateboarding shaped his 17-year career and his tips for aspiring marketing leaders.

How do you see AI shaping the marketing practice in the next 10 years?

AI is going to have a huge impact on marketing in a number of ways. It will make the capabilities of existing tools much more powerful, while also creating new opportunities for marketers to harness.

Consider computer vision or image recognition. This technology currently enables marketers to comprehensively “see” all brand-related social media posts or visual signage that might otherwise go unquantified. So, for instance, marketers could use image recognition software to find pictures of people with clean, white teeth. With that data, you can then serve relevant mouth-care products to those consumers.

Over the next ten years, deep learning algorithms will make technology like this much more sophisticated. Marketers will benefit from consumers using visual search to discover products and complete purchases with speed and ease.

There’s lot of buzz (and noise) about AI. What’s the biggest misconception about AI?

The biggest fear surrounding AI is that it will lead to mass unemployment because machines will take over a number of skilled and unskilled jobs. This notion is simply not correct. People aren’t going to be put out of work by AI, but their jobs will change in order to incorporate AI. Automation will make its way into everyone’s job in some capacity, but that’s not a bad thing.

AI will make it easier to do a better job. We saw this kind of fear when programmatic advertising came about. People assumed that level of automation would replace creatives and eliminate marketing jobs. As most marketers can tell you, ad tech and marketing tech hasn’t replaced workers, it’s just changed their responsibilities and the tools in their toolbox.

“Great marketing isn’t about telling, it’s about showing, and that’s what magic is all about.”

Before joining GumGum, you spent five years working in ad tech. In your opinion, what’s the most underrated problem facing advertisers today?

Viewability is a significant issue that many in the industry are talking about, but I don’t think their arguments are getting to the heart of the matter. The current debate is over what constitutes viewability as a metric, when we need to be looking at viewability as a concept.

People are exposed to more visual content every day, making “banner blindness” that much worse. It doesn’t matter if an ad is placed in an area where someone might look at it. There’s so much junk out there that people only pay attention to what they’re looking for. Exposure to what the advertising world refers to as “eyeballs” is no guarantee that content will actually be viewed or seen.

Approaching viewability from a strictly metrics-only angle gives a limited view of your campaign’s effectiveness. Marketers need to treat viewability as a standard that ensures customers actually see and process their content, and not just a metric that says someone probably saw some of the content.

Many analysts and marketing leaders today are talking about the need to become more customer-led. How do you motivate your team to embrace customer-centricity?

I tell people that we want to make content that is so good that our competitors will want to share it. That means telling the company’s story in way that customers will love. For example, we created a comic book called T-Man And Gums that showcased the value of GumGum’s computer vision in an accessible and educational format. That kind of creativity and attitude drives our team because we all know that our projects are much more successful when they’re created with the customers’ interests and preferences in mind.

On LinkedIn, you refer to your position at GumGum as the Chief Magic Officer. How do you create “magic” in the company?

Magic isn’t just smoke and mirrors, it’s that feeling of wonder you have when you see something that captivates your imagination. That feeling is what marketers strive to deliver. We’re not here to sell you something, we’re here to tell a story and connect with customers on an emotional level. Great marketing isn’t about telling, it’s about showing, and that’s what magic is all about. You can’t explain magic; you experience it.

In your Twitter bio, you describe yourself as a “semi-retired skateboarder.” How did skateboarding influence your career in marketing?

I’ve been continually inspired by and immersed in skateboarding subculture since I was 12. Skateboarding led me to pick up snowboarding and surfing and exposed me to musical and visual arts. This has in turn allowed me to push my boundaries as a marketer. The style that surrounds skateboarding exposed me to different kinds of aesthetics that provide the varying perspectives and experiences you need to be an effective marketer. Sometimes the best marketing ideas don’t just come from outside of the proverbial box, they have nothing at all (at least at first glance) to do with the box.

What are the top three skills future CMOs need to hone today?

Storytelling is the cornerstone of marketing. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have at your disposal—getting your message in front of everyone in the world means nothing if you don’t know how to tell that message in an engaging way.

Being a good marketer also means being a good listener. You can’t connect with your customers if you don’t know what they’re saying about your brand. Marketing leaders must find and measure how customers are talking about their brands, and that requires more than just a quick keyword search.

Augmented reality isn’t a gimmick. It’s one of the best ways to get customers involved in a brand experience. It literally pulls them into the content by making that content (and the brand producing it) part of the customer’s world. This type of interaction creates a connection that’s beyond engagement. As AR technology advances, there will be huge opportunities for marketers to create lasting bonds with customers, but marketers need to be able to use the platform the right way.