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Ethical Considerations of AI in Marketing

The Rise of AI

Over the past 18 months, the rise of artifcial intelligence (AI) has been marked by significant advancements across various domains, most notably in natural language processing, image recognition, and autonomous systems. As AI continues to evolve, its integration into everyday life has become more pronounced, shaping the way we interact with technology. Within MarTech, we’re seeing AI create customer segments, generate content (ex. email copy), and predict optimal next steps in a user’s journey.


The Exploitation of AI

We should also remember that AI is not infallible. The accuracy and reliability of AI systems hinge greatly on the quality of the data they are trained on. Incomplete, biased, or erroneous (intentional, or otherwise) data can lead to flawed outcomes and decision-making by AI algorithms. Even seemingly insignificant inaccuracies in the data can cascade into significant errors in AI predictions or recommendations.


Moreover, the human element in AI’s development and application introduces vulnerabilities. A striking example of how AI can be misused in marketing involves the creation of fake online reviews or social media posts. In 2017, researchers from the University of Chicago developed an AI system capable of crafting convincing fake Yelp reviews. This deceptive practice threatens customers’ trust by influencing purchasing decisions based on false information.


What Is Real?

In the face of such manipulation, customers are left questioning the authenticity of information. This uncertainty can erode trust in a company's culture. Recognizing and addressing these ethical considerations is crucial in leveraging AI responsibly and preserving customer trust. Interestingly enough, not enough people have stopped to think about the ethical considerations of AI in marketing. This is clearly evident by the lack of content on this subject. So, let’s talk about it!


Consumer Expectations

Transparency is paramount in meeting consumer expectations. It’s one of the reasons why third-party cookies are on the way out and promoted content needs to be clearly disclosed by content creators. As for AI-generated content, there are no explicit laws mandating the disclosure of it, but existing regulations may be relevant in specific situations. For instance, the FTC has set guidelines for advertising and marketing, emphasizing the need to disclose connections between advertisers and endorsers. These guidelines do extend to AI-generated content used for promoting products or services.


Then, from a marketing lens, what responsibility do we have to those we send AI influenced messaging? When it comes to content creation, is it necessary to inform the public when AI plays a role in it? As marketers, it's essential to consider the responsibility to consumers when utilizing AI-influenced messaging and to uphold ethical practices.


To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question

To dig a little deeper, here are a few different scenarios where AI is present in marketing, and we want you to think if the consumer should be privy of its use:

  • AI selected the qualified group of prospects for messaging

  • Email copy was developed by AI

  • The chatbot answering their questions is powered by AI

  • The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system they’re engaging with is collecting data from your conversation

  • Personalized recommendations (additional products and/or services)

Unfortunately, there are no "right" answers to these questions. However, we’d recommend that you empathically evaluate them from the perspective of the end user. And remember, transparency fosters trust and allows consumers to make informed decisions.


Looking Ahead

As AI emerges as a powerful tool in marketing, just like any innovative technology, it comes with a learning curve. You may be quick to prioritize AI benefits without fully considering the ethical considerations, leading to potentially alienating your customer base. Remember, AI is a tool and not a standalone solution. While AI can provide information from a variety of data sources to supercharge your marketing, having a human element is key to navigating the evolving landscape of AI in marketing.

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