Is generative artificial intelligence ready to replace me? Since its sudden emergence, this has been one of the major concerns driving the digital world. To gain a better understanding of the ethical implications, we spoke to 11 digital marketing professionals. While they are aware of the upheavals to come, they remain confident about their future.
If marketing ethics has been a concern for researchers in the industry since the beginning of the 20th century, the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) in digital marketing has naturally emerged as a central concern since late 2022 with the advent of generative AI technologies. Do they pose a threat to the jobs of marketing professionals, as often discussed?
We interviewed 11 digital marketing professionals currently working in France and the United States. We intentionally selected profiles with varying levels of seniority and hierarchy, ranging from a digital marketing project management intern to the CEO of a renowned online advertising agency, including a junior art director and the Data Director of a well-known French retail conglomerate.
“Everything is created by us, everything is written by us”
Beyond the scientific community, professionals themselves are questioning the new ethical challenges raised by generative AI. In 2023, 22% of individuals report already using generative AI regularly in their work, according to McKinsey. Delegating writing tasks can thus present an ethical dilemma in their eyes: “Ethically, it’s complicated to send clients articles that are empty and don’t bring much,” points out a Marketing and Sales representative we interviewed, for whom robot-generated content may provide little added value to the reader.
Above all, our interviews reveal that it is delicate for marketing professionals to take a firm position on the actual knowledge they have about AIs. In their eyes, AIs are still challenging to define, whether they are novices or experienced. “For newsletters, I don’t use AI at all; we use Hubspot, everything is created by us, everything is written by us, nothing is modified,” assures one professional before expressing doubts: “Even for writing ads on Google Ads, I’m not sure if it’s AI. Maybe, I’m not sure…” Her uncertainty raises the question of whether this confusion results from a confluence of technological advances or a lack of sufficient technical skills to differentiate between AI varieties and specific applications.
“I don’t believe it”
Despite this ambiguity, a large majority of those interviewed in our study claim to use AIs in their work, sometimes encouraged by organizational directives. This trend contradicts the widely publicized assumption that AIs would threaten employment in marketing. While 80% of participants do discuss the issue of AI replacement in the interviews we conducted, only a few express significant concern. “I don’t believe it,” confides a junior art director. “Yes, graphic design will be much more accessible to everyone, but there will always be a qualified segment of the market.” The concern is not about direct replacement but rather about the transformations in the job market induced by AI.
Without openness to change and the evolution of work habits, professionals are, however, at risk of losing their jobs. A Marketing director in the United States with 10 years of experience confirms this: “The prevailing discourse here is clear: people won’t lose their jobs because of AI; they will lose their jobs because they don’t master AI.”
AI, a new colleague?
The question then arises: how to integrate AI alongside humans in an ethically responsible manner? In our study, ethical action aligns with the utilitarian vision in that it works for the well-being of the majority. Concretely, in our context, this translates into delegating repetitive tasks to AI, thereby freeing up employees for more strategic and creative roles.
The ethical adoption of AI begins with the acknowledgment and acceptance of this technology by end users. Professionals must already demonstrate openness towards AI and its capabilities, as well as take a proactive approach in seeking or requesting relevant training. However, both the professional and their hierarchy must be able to anticipate the evolving roles in the industry related to the expansion of AI technologies to ensure training that is relevant enough to keep pace with AI.
Companies, aware of the challenges, must consider the future of recruitment and skill development by taking AI into consideration. To avoid frustration or crises, marketing professionals must acquire technical skills to align their tasks with the capabilities offered by AI.
Marketing and added value
The responsibility for ethical use is shared: for AI to free employees from repetitive tasks and enable them to focus on higher value-added tasks, companies must support the change while addressing new individual needs. Professionals must demonstrate curiosity and openness to learning. The opportunity for ethical use of AI lies in this co-construction, where the most tedious tasks are automated to promote professional development.
For the integration of AI to be beneficial for both companies and their teams, professionals must understand the advantages and limitations of AIs. From this understanding, they can shape the tool that will support them in arduous tasks without replacing them in tasks traditionally reserved for specialists.