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Ideas Strategy2019-03-18

What does Globalization 4.0 mean for brands?

Tim Irwin

It used to be that every so often a person, an event, or a technology would show up and change things. Sometimes that change would be revolutionary - like Gutenberg’s printing press. Sometimes it would be incremental, like the introduction of faster iron hand presses four centuries later. Change used to be defined by its infrequency; a brief and often painful interlude between periods of stability.

It is only natural that we talk about change as much as we do in advertising because it has been the defining dynamic of our era. We have all lived and worked through an unprecedented period of sustained and chaotic change sparked by the last global revolution: the introduction of computers and the internet.

Having lived through an era characterized by challenging conventions and matching brands and products to smaller and smaller audiences, it may be hard to believe that we are already on the verge of yet another shift significant enough to make the last thirty years feel stable. But whether we like it or not, that change is already underway. The next industrial revolution - powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence - will hit us all harder and faster than the last. It will affect every industry in the global economy and bears the potential to create entirely new ones.

So whether a company is “digital” or not is now moot. Companies that are not placing data and technology at the heart of how they function will simply cease to exist in the coming years. The brands that will shape this next era of change will be those that ask: “What better future can we build for people with technology?” For businesses like Google, Uber, and Airbnb that are truly data and technology-enabled, the opportunity to answer that question creatively - and globally - is endless.

The opportunity for us all to get it wrong, however, is also significant. As an industry, we have plenty to learn from the mistakes of the last revolution, about the importance of balancing short term returns with long term goals and societal obligations. Advertisers must act now by seriously considering the ethical responsibilities of applying AI to marketing communications and their potential to inadvertently deepen social divides by reinforcing biases. Brands can start today by ensuring that the ways in which they target and communicate with potential customers is socially inclusive.

In addition to maintaining consumer trust through responsible targeting, brands must give serious consideration to what they will do to reskill their workforce as automation and AI slice through workloads dominated by routine tasks. Companies must re-appraise their human workforces and provide ways for them to add new types of value, in creativity, empathy, and human connection by investing in training and creative thinking.

Finally, advertising has an enormous opportunity to lead by example and change the narrative unfolding about the negative impacts of technology. With PwC reporting more than 30% of jobs in the UK at risk by the 2030s and 70% of international populations in a recent Pew Research study anticipating that robots and computers will do much of today’s work in the future, companies must head off mistrust and anxiety by engaging on this topic. As advertisers, we have a crucial role to play: by helping our clients give people reason to hope in the future and by ensuring that hope is not unfounded in our own industry as employers taking care of our employees in this coming revolution.

This article originally appeared in The Drum magazine Volume #40, Issue #04, Globalization for Good.