Matt Marcus, senior VP and executive creative director at R/GA, is pitching Cars.com on the benefits of having an AI strategy. "If you're not thinking about AI, you're going to get disrupted by someone else," he says to a room of the brand's marketing executives, who gathered at R/GA's Chicago's office late last month. "But you clearly are thinking about it and we'd love to help you out."
Cars.com is already developing a Facebook Messenger chatbot and voice apps for Google Home and Amazon Alexa. But its efforts, which haven't been released to the public yet, have a check-the-box quality. Though they are working as designed, it's hard to see them "moving metal," as car dealers say.
Marcus and his partner at R/GA's new Brand AI practice, Executive Tech Director Michael Morowitz, have seen dozens of companies go the same route. They're trying to convince brands that R/GA can bring them AI on a different level. But there's a gap between marketers' desire for something called AI and their ability to fund projects that swing for the fences with agencies' young AI units. "The No. 1 mistake clients make is thinking about a narrow solution for their consumer-facing AI," Marcus says in an interview later. "Narrow solutions get used once and abandoned."
Marcus and Morowitz are tasked with growing R/GA's Chicago-based Brand AI practice, responsible for developing AI solutions and strategies across the agency's portfolio of clients, as well as potential new ones too. Brand AI has nine clients so far, and 30 dedicated employees, according to R/GA.
This is not a test
Other agencies, such as Atlanta-based Moxie, provide similar services. Wunderman has a team of more than 100 dedicated to AI. Epsilon's Agency AI practice includes 25 data scientists, technologists and experts in "multimodal user experience" (that's voice, vision and touch).
But AI is expensive: A good program can run nine figures. And the results aren't easy to measure.
The R/GA team cautions clients that they won't get far if they consider their AI projects a "test," according to Marcus. "Positioning these as tests is tantamount to failure," he says. "If there is no marketing or support, they will naturally fail."