Q&A: Can AI transparency win over sceptical consumers?

Yahoo’s Alice Beecroft reveals insights from new survey

Whilst many advertisers have embraced AI, consumers aren’t as keen. A new study by Yahoo, in collaboration with Publicis Media, reveals a fascinating gap in AI perception and trust. They surveyed over 1200 consumers and more than 350 advertisers in the US, and found that whilst nearly 8 in 10 advertisers view AI positively, only 38% of consumers share this sentiment. The good news for brands is that the solution to balancing AI usage and positive brand equity is simple: be transparent.

In this interview, MediaCat’s Editor-at-large Natasha Randhawa digs into the survey’s findings with Yahoo’s Senior Director of Global DSP Strategy & Partnerships, Alice Beecroft.

Alice, welcome. Let’s get into the numbers. The study found that 86% of advertisers are using AI in their roles, and AI is already reshaping the advertising landscape; can you elaborate on the growing opportunities for AI usage, in terms of measurement and sustainability?

Alice Beecroft

AI has been incredibly useful for measurement, particularly cross-channel which has been notoriously difficult to implement. 52% of respondents to our survey placed measurement as the top task where AI will have the biggest impact over the coming years — this is where significant time and cost savings will be made by AI. New systems, underpinned by AI are essential for areas like real-time insights, attribution and prediction modelling. One primary use of AI for greater sustainability is to optimise the supply path in media buying, streamlining the process for media buyers and publishers at the same time.

This minimises consumption and reduces environmental impact whilst ensuring advertisers still meet their goals. Day-to-day, AI really does take some of the pressure off of advertisers and can be seen as a phenomenal help for creative starting points, and as its more classical function as a means of processing and predicting future trends.

One of the big areas that we are expecting to grow over the coming years is using AI for strategy recommendation. With this we will see advertisers being advised on creative campaigns and ad placement, improving overall campaign effectiveness.  

So the benefits for business are clear — but whilst 61% of consumers suspect AI usage in ads, they don’t know how to identify where. Considering this current knowledge gap, how crucial is it for brands to become stewards of ethical AI use in the industry? Do these developments set a new standard for advertising?

There’s a pretty broad consensus among advertisers that it’s their responsibility to disclose AI usage in their campaigns (85%), and if that disclosure is transparent to the consumers, we see huge boosts in consumer trust and receptivity to AI within campaigns in general. Ethical use of AI is paramount in this industry, especially at a time of so much confusion on the consumer end regarding its usage in advertising.

Ultimately, I think the standards have always been high for advertisers to be responsible with data and communication with consumers, but AI certainly, especially due to its relative youth, adds another level of complexity that we need to navigate — especially due to the increasing consumer awareness of AI. To me this is not so much a new standard, but an evolution of standards within an industry that is constantly adapting to change. 

The study shows transparency about AI in ads boosts trust, especially in sensitive sectors like finance (148% lift) and healthcare (132% lift). But could this disclosure also raise concerns (data privacy, bias)? How can brands balance both?

I don’t think that being transparent and being safe with data are mutually exclusive. Advertisers’ central worry about AI is its handling of private data, and that concern is also raised by consumers. The power of transparency goes both ways for brands; it builds quick and effective trust in consumers, as we have seen especially in the finance and healthcare sector as you have mentioned, but transparency also can allow brands to showcase the strength of their AI platform and grow their own internal trust with the system, as well as within the industry at large.

It’s certainly a current issue, but transparency and clarity by brands will alleviate consumer concerns around bias and privacy going into the future. 

The data shows a clear generational divide in AI use (Gen Z: 84% vs Boomers: 40%). How can marketers ensure their strategies reach both younger, AI-savvy demographics and older generations who might need more education on AI?

Digital natives — those in the Gen Z, millennial bubble — are embracing AI at a much faster rate than other generations of course, and our data shows that engaging this group with AI is a more organic process. For older generations, adoption may be slower as AI tools become not only more accessible and trusted but also just simpler to use.

Equally conflating use and reception makes boomers out to be more anti-AI than indeed they are, in fact, they sit comfortably within the majority of consumers, who place high priority on their privacy and the current lack of government regulation on this industry. While regulation is certainly on the way, in the meantime it all goes back to transparency for brands, who will gain audiences through clear and transparent AI campaigns. Audiences like honesty, and disclosures around AI use only support this. 

The majority of those surveyed (44%) use AI for basic questions and answers, similar to search engines, whilst 35% use the tech to write and 33% to generate ideas. What are the potential implications of this for businesses, and how is Yahoo leveraging AI to cater to this growing demand for creative assistance?

I think for businesses, the importance is to match the basic search bar function that AI is being used for. AI can absolutely be used as a starting point for human creativity and Yahoo Creative Studios can bring AI-led optimisation to find the most creative and intuitive strategies for consumers. Ultimately creative assistance is the goal, at Yahoo that’s what we are leading with, and as you pointed out, it’s what the data shows consumers want outside of the basics. 

Yahoo’s research focuses on the US market. Can you share any insights on how these findings might translate to a global audience with diverse cultural sensitivities towards AI?

There are broad distinctions between different countries surrounding AI optimism and caution, and I think our data in the US reflects that. People are cautious, but they are also curious about just how many benefits AI can bring, and that’s across the board. 

That’s ultimately where we sit, at a time when this new technology, which one of our surveyed advertisers likened to the beginning of the internet, is updating and re-inventing itself at such a rapid pace, consumers will naturally be in split minds and be uninformed and worried. It’s up to advertisers, especially those at the forefront of this revolution, to be transparent, be clear, and ultimately keep an open mind as to where this technology is heading. 

And finally, what factors do you believe will determine whether AI becomes a game-changer in the advertising industry or just another fleeting trend?

Yahoo has a deep-rooted history with AI and Machine Learning, so to us, it is far more than just a fleeting trend. While as a concept, AI is being spoken about less and less due to its ubiquity, within the context of advertising, it is being discussed more and more. Whether it’s in AI algorithms for programmatic advertising or supporting the creative side of AI, businesses are becoming increasingly central to our everyday work lives. GenAI especially has played a significant role in driving interest and excitement in AI, showcasing its potential to revolutionise creativity, innovation, and human-computer interaction.

Our data shows that advertisers are really in a chorus about this (82%), the power of AI is here now, and will only become better ingrained into our advertising. Right now, disclosure and transparency are key to keeping consumers on board, and ultimately for brands, AI offers high efficiency, creative help, and of course financial benefits.

Those benefits really transcend the idea that this is simply a trend; it all points towards AI being here to stay. 

Featured image: Martin Martz / Unsplash