Rarely has a technology so captivated the marketing industry as ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot developed by OpenAI. In roughly one year, the platform has transformed the ad industry’s understanding of what is creatively possible. ChatGPT has also revolutionized traditionally tedious tasks, from analyzing data to summarizing briefs to writing emails.
ChatGPT—a year in review
While the platform is now very much mainstream, the path it took to get here was not all that easy. Recall the numerous lawsuits, still awaiting verdicts, alleging that ChatGPT is in legal violation surrounding issues ranging from digital privacy to copyright infringement. Recall, too, last month’s controversy that nearly brought OpenAI to its knees (see below).
All around these headwinds, however, growth and adoption fueled the platform’s rise. This tension between responsible resistance and technological irresistibility might best describe Year One of the history of ChatGPT.
Look back: ChatGPT’s brand success is hardly artificial
Follow us down memory lane as we revisit some of ChatGPT’s most notable developments.
ChatGPT goes live
On Nov. 30, 2022, OpenAI officially launched ChatGPT. The free, web-based platform quickly drew the attention of AI enthusiasts, acquiring 1 million users in five days’ time. But soon people who had never used generative AI began to take an interest. ChatGPT’s ability to answer complex questions, write poetry, complete code and more propelled it into 2023 as one of the most exciting technologies available.
Marketers jump in
By the end of January 2023, ChatGPT was seeing 100 million monthly users—which included a growing force of marketers eager to apply the tool to internal and external operations. Agencies such as Pereira O’Dell and Product tested the platform’s ability to create content, while others looked to streamline emails and data analysis.
Brands, too, jumped in on the action. Snapple used ChatGPT to generate facts for its bottle caps. Coca-Cola struck a partnership with Bain and OpenAI to use tools including ChatGPT to enhance its creative marketing. Recognizing the growing enterprise interest, OpenAI in March unveiled plug-ins that enable ChatGPT to invoke a company’s services when handling a user’s query. Brands including Kayak, Klarna, OpenTable and Expedia were some of the first to pilot the new feature.
Concerns pile up
ChatGPT was in full bloom by the time spring came around, yet concerns over its level of safety—for both companies and consumers—began to pile up. In April, Italy banned ChatGPT over worries about digital privacy, affecting local agencies that were busy experimenting, such as Wunderman Thompson. The country eventually lifted the ban after OpenAI established new privacy guarantees.
These mounting concerns compelled Sam Altman, co-founder and chief executive of OpenAI, to testify before Congress in May. Altman answered heated questions by senators on a range of topics, and largely impressed the lawmakers by encouraging policy to curb potential threats posed by AI. Three days later, OpenAI launched an official ChatGPT app on the App Store.
The Federal Trade Commission in July launched an investigation into OpenAI over the company’s possible violations of consumer protection laws. The agency specifically cited the possibility that ChatGPT was scraping public data and publishing false information.
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Another area of concern that quickly gained attention was copyright, and whether ChatGPT was improperly trained on copyrighted material. Multiple lawsuits were brought against OpenAI by outraged creators and content owners, including comedian Sarah Silverman, who alleged the chatbot processed her memoir without her permission. These suits culminated in a legal battle brought against OpenAI in September by prominent authors including Jodi Picoult, John Grisham and Jonathan Franzen, also alleging that their material was improperly used for training the bot.
Continued growth paves the way to 2024
Despite trouble brewing in the background, OpenAI continued to grow ChatGPT. The company hosted its first Developer Day in early November, at which it rolled out new features for the platform, including the ability to search the web in real time. OpenAI also announced a forthcoming app store where developers could create and sell their own GPT-powered applications. And ChatGPT reached another audience milestone: 100 million weekly active users.
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As 2023 wound down, nothing but clear skies appeared ahead, until …
Sam Altman is ousted, nearly ruining OpenAI
On a quiet Friday afternoon in mid-November, OpenAI announced that it had fired Sam Altman, who was largely seen as the face and future of the flourishing company. The move was not taken kindly by various stakeholders, and the firing was certainly a shock given Altman’s role in leading OpenAI over the past fruitful year. In a matter of days, 90% of the company’s employees threatened to quit, many of its customers considered defecting to rivals and investors considered filing a lawsuit against OpenAI’s board, which had pushed Altman out.
The fate of the company, including its prized ChatGPT platform, hung in the balance, until an agreement was reached to bring Altman back in his executive role. All but one of the board members stepped down, replaced by Silicon Valley veterans whose appointments indicated a clear direction for OpenAI: forward.
The debacle nearly ruined OpenAI, yet the company looks as strong as ever going into 2024. Behind Altman, OpenAI has its eyes on further commercializing ChatGPT, which may cause chaos in the long term, but in the short term means that businesses and consumers should expect a lot more of what they saw in 2023.