The rise of the machines

As technology and marketing merge, human touches must remain

Google’s search engine technology constantly scans sites for content relevant to advertisers’ messages. When it finds a good match, the technology places an ad in a pre-agreed position. A small note at the top of the box, saying “Ads by Google”, is the only hint that a sales team was not involved.

This is a tsunami of a revolution in advertising, the stuff of fantasy just a few years ago. Of course, it won’t be the answer for everything; of course, it won’t completely replace the traditional ad sales team – yet. But what it does for the internet economy is breathtaking, giving a lifeline to the plethora of websites that can’t afford to employ their own sales staff.

Another major milestone, launched this month, comes from translation specialist SDL International. Until now, SDL has relied heavily on people to do the translation work for its clients. With a surge in the number of websites being localised for international audiences, SDL has seen strong growth.

But now it hopes to take things to the next level, with the launch of a product that relies largely on technology to automate the translation. It only brings in a human element at the later stages, to add polish.

Again, not long ago this would have been a futuristic dream. Technology is being merged into marketing, in the process changing what we understand by marketing.

Despite my enthusiasm for technology, I have argued here before that it can only work for marketers as long as consumers do not feel dehumanised. If it is doing its job, they shouldn’t even be aware of it.

Marketers have quite a tightrope to walk, and unfortunately many are falling off. They must keep up with the technological ability of consumers while maintaining a strong human element as a safety net when things go wrong.

It is up to marketers to lobby hard within their corporate hierarchies and to ensure consumers are not short-changed by this most exciting of transitions.

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