How they developed
A quality shared by most of these AI think tanks is they were formulated in the past year. As generative AI rose to mainstream prominence, beginning with ChatGPT last fall, advertising companies realized they needed strategies, and moreover, dedicated groups to design those strategies.
“Clients are asking a lot of questions, so big agencies have to have answers for them,” said Forrester’s Pattisall.
For example, thanks to an onslaught of AI activity in the absence of industry consensus, the Association of National Advertisers updated its media-buying template to reflect new policies around using AI in client work. The lack of an overarching regulatory framework means that uncertainties extend to many other issues, such as copyright and data privacy.
To be sure, some agencies have managed to entertain these questions through pre-existing internal collectives focused on emerging technology like AI. At Huge, for example, a community of a few hundred employees has been meeting to chat about AI for roughly two years, according to Lisa de Bonis, Huge’s chief product officer.
Casual forums also preceded steering groups at Dentsu and Oliver. The impact made by the rise of generative AI, however, was an incentive for more formal organization, de Bonis told Ad Age.
Dentsu established its two-pronged group roughly four months ago, said Vannavada. The inspiration was noticing how so many of its employees were already experimenting with generative AI tools.
The seeds for Omnicom’s committees were planted late last year. Yuvienco said that the capabilities of large language models (LLMs) that began to emerge in the fall showed Omnicom how AI could be applied in all areas of its business. Soon after, the company formalized its think tank network to strategize for different departments simultaneously.
As AI becomes more developed, Pattisall expects these groups to shift their focus from abstract thought leadership to concrete execution. This process appears to have already commenced with the erosion of the “play, don’t publish” mindset that was popular six months ago, in which experimentation with tools was encouraged over implementing them in client work.
But the industry moves fast, and now marketers seem poised to bring to the foreground the ideas they’ve been busily crafting in the background.