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Should AI Marketing Tools Paint An Accurate Or Idyllic Vision Of Future Driving Experiences?

Buick just released their new ad campaign, which features some creative marketing to convey a vision for future female Buick ownership. However, innovative AI solely depicts a past persona of docile women rather than tomorrow’s women with agency and independence.

Of all the technological advances in advertising, none are perhaps more exciting than the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is changing the very nature of advertising, introducing to automakers and other corporations a new understanding of customer value creation. AI is affecting all aspects of the advertising process and resulting consumer interpretation of commodities.

Buick is an automaker that has embraced the possibilities of AI marketing, and its new campaign, “Dream with Us,” draws upon a slew of AI enhancements to depict a vision of the future — explicitly for a female audience. Yes, it’s noteworthy that Buick is celebrating women. What’s not so admirable, however, is how Buick has used AI to depict a particular vision of women as passive, leisure-focused, and even a bit spacey.

Corporate Messaging in Today’s Tech World

Advertising refers to brand communication with an intent to persuade. The advertising management process includes areas such as market research, targeting and media selection, ad creation and design, ad placement and execution, and ad performance.

To influence brand perceptions, advertisers have regularly recreated data so that what is depicted in ads will appeal to consumers in a rational or emotive way and increase purchase likelihood. The sophistication of this manipulation has changed considerably over time, and today marketing has become highly technologized with AI.

AI advertising is defined as brand communication that uses a range of machine functions that learn to carry out tasks with intent to persuade with input by humans, machines, or both. AI advertising can and is viewed as a distinctive subdiscipline of advertising that is situated at the intersection of cognitive science, computer science, and advertising.

Stories Make Meaning within Corporate Messaging

Synthetic advertising refers to ads that are generated or edited through the artificial and automatic production and modification of data. Typically, this relies on AI algorithms, such as deepfakes and generative adversarial networks, to automatically create content that depicts a highly convincing yet artificial and fake version of reality. Drawing in consciousness and emotions, corporations are now restructuring parts of the exchange relationship with existing customers under the premise that they are making AI tangible and exposing it to their consumers who want enhanced product experiences.

Ads that feature stories can also evoke narrative connections, drawing consumers into an ad, increasing their empathy with ad characters, and activating imagination. Advertising endorsements can even be shared using AI influencers as alternatives to traditional human celebrity endorsers, for example.

Consumers generally respond to ads that are perceived as more expensive, either in terms of their creativity or placement. Although AI technology can increase consumers’ atmosphere evaluations and purchase intentions through content specific communication sensory stimulation, positive effects can be undermined if consumers perceive threats from AI.

Buick as AI Marketing Case Study

New technologies have transformed the ways businesses communicate and maintain relationships with their customers. AI marketing can be experienced within a specific context, such as social media, or as part of a larger branded experience, such as an extended ad campaign. Its effectiveness is, in part, gained through originality  — the levels of its novelty, divergence, unexpectedness, and newness.

Greater sophistication through AI marketing enhances consumer perception as to whether an ad looks true or real as well as an ad’s perceived creativity, as evident in the Buick announcement this week that centered on an expanded collaboration with Reese Witherspoon and her Hello Sunshine media company.

The campaign debuted on television and online on August 17. Buick described its vehicles in the press release as offering “sculptural designs, refined performance, modern interiors, and thoughtful personal technologies.”

The new collaboration centers around a “Dream with Us” storyline which envisions what life could look like for future Buick brand vehicle owners. Voiced by Witherspoon, the campaign features the Buick Wildcat EV concept to illustrate the potential vehicle experience of tomorrow — for women.

As part of the “Dream with Us” series, Witherspoon narrates the day of a future Buick female consumer in the concept Wildcat EV1, which uses AI throughout the driving experience. Signaling Buick’s brand transformation, the campaign incorporates a new company logo, music, and representative voice. The intent is a signal that the Buick brand is becoming synonymous with an all-electric future, and, to get there, the company is drawing upon intuitive technologies to create an enhanced sense of well-being.

Interestingly, Buick has not committed the concepts within the campaign for production; rather, they help convey the company vision for the future of Buick ownership. A company spokesperson described the campaign as incorporating a number of conceptual features and technologies — visions of what might be, to paraphrase Dickens.

The Hello Sunshine brand was founded with the mission of putting women at the center of every story it creates, celebrates, and discovers. Acknowledging that more and more women are making vehicle-buying decisions, Buick is experimenting with creative ways to offer experiences tailored to this audience. By collaborating with Hello Sunshine, Buick implies a shared vision of empowering women.

The various protagonists in the commercial — many of whom are women of color — are passengers, not drivers, as the vehicle navigates autonomously. The Wildcat EV1 projects a peaceful, woodland setting on the windshield. Parallel parks for her. Feeds her dog from 50 miles away. Changes its exterior color based on her outfit. Rolls up the windows when the parked vehicle detects inclement weather. Activates Zen mode and Romance setting.

Is “a future that is more harmonized with your life” appealing to women? Yes, absolutely, as it would be to men, of course. Everyone, regardless of gender identity, would want “life enhancing innovations you’ve never even dreamed of.”

It is that imagined life of women that is problematic.

In this commercial, these women are driven rather than drive. They worry about getting lost or parallel parking. They seek fashion reinforcement from their vehicle over automotive capability or dynamics. They’re moody, relying on Zen mode to settle. They experience life as too complicated and look to technology to help them simplify, make sense of the world, and connect with others more. They’re forgetful: the dog, left alone at home, hasn’t been fed. They flit around the beach but don’t realize rain will splash on their car interior. They’re more focused on Romance setting than breaking career glass ceilings.

It is this world of women that Buick sees as “a future that’s even better because it’s built around you.”

Witherspoon is an Oscar-winning actress and producer. Buick’s expanded collaboration with Hello Sunshine will also include creative work with her including brand collaboration opportunities and continuation of the Reese’s Book Club in-vehicle app2 in eligible Buick vehicles. The audio-based app provides Buick drivers with access to a selection of audiobooks and podcasts chosen for Reese’s Book Club.

Final Thoughts about AI Marketing

AI marketing is revolutionizing the way organizations create content for campaigns, generate leads, reduce customer acquisition costs, manage customer experiences, market themselves to prospective employees, and convert their reachable consumer base via social media. AI touches on nearly every aspect of society—from retail and entertainment to finance, politics, and health care. AI marketing innovations emphasis on client commitment, fulfillment, and experience, so that machine learning can help businesses to predict their clients’ next step and maximize the customer journey.

Women as a target audience for automakers is well overdue. The way that automakers appeal to women, though, needs to represent the authentic lives of women today and a look to their future lives. GM has a woman, Mary Barra, as its CEO — perhaps the company would be wise to use her as a model when considering what a woman would want from an all-electric drive, rather than an outdated persona that dismisses women’s agency.

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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