2023 is looking to be the year when artificial intelligence (AI) will really make its mark — fascinating us and leaving many of us in the creative industry wondering if we may be made obsolete. 

Most of us have heard the chatter about OpenAI’s ChatGPT. But, there are a variety of free additional examples of generative AI (that is, AI that can generate novel content, rather than simply analyzing or acting on existing data) out there, including Midjourney, Dall.e 2, and Stable Diffusion. Each of these has the power to fundamentally change the way marketers work. 

But, back to the questions at hand… What does AI mean for us now and in the near future? Are we all about to be out of a job? Are they just clever magic tricks? Or, are there some practical use cases that could positively impact the way we’re working right now?  

Spoiler: As creative director at Net Natives, I think we can benefit from AI — but that’s nothing new and perhaps not surprising. At Net Natives, we’ve made significant investments and advances in our own AI technologies over the last few years, and have won and been shortlisted for numerous AI, machine learning, and automation awards. In short, I think if you’re an agency not looking seriously at the potential of AI, then you’ll get left behind.

But, if you don’t know much about using AI, where do you start — and how can you leverage these powerful tools in your higher ed marketing strategies? I asked my Net Natives colleagues, Kas Nicholls, research director, and Jake Cuthbert, paid media manager, to share their thoughts on how our global audience can benefit. 

Read on to learn more about my experience running a human vs. AI test (inspired by Ryan Reynolds) and to hear from Kas and Jake on how AI could impact our research and advertising strategies. 

Creative opportunities 

I see a great opportunity in using ChatGPT to check and challenge your own originality. It's too easy to fall into well-trodden tropes and tactics when writing or creating from familiar briefs. 

I’ve found that these tools challenge me to push the boundaries and be more original in what I’m doing. And I think it will make all creatives more creative in pursuit of a truly stand-out result

So, what happened when we tested the creative capabilities of AI vs. our copywriters? Our test was based on a basic creative brief requesting a 30-second audio ad for an open day (the U.K. equivalent of open houses at U.S. universities)  at the fictitious Natives University in London. The brief also requested that community, professors, and location be mentioned. 

One of our copywriters and ChatGPT were both given the same brief. Note that neither one had a chance to see what the other had written prior to their copy being sent over to be recorded (in a quite amateurish fashion) by me. 

To test the scripts, we set up a number of metrics to rate them on, in an effort to understand how each might perform in the real world when it came to branding and driving registrations.  

Here’s what AI developed: 

Welcome to Natives University in London, where you'll find a vibrant community of students and world-renowned professors. 
Our location in the heart of London means you'll have access to all the city has to offer, from world-class museums to cutting-edge technology. 
Our professors possess extensive knowledge in their areas of expertise, are enthusiastic about imparting their knowledge, and committed to aiding you in achieving your goals.
Visit us during our open day and discover why Net Natives University is the ideal starting point for your educational path.
Visit our website and register for your place at open day.

Not awful, right? Sure, there is some slightly clunky phrasing. But overall, all bases are covered. The information is presented with a clear flow and hierarchy, and although it’s lacking a bit in terms of personality, I could certainly imagine hearing this kind of thing from a university playing it safe.

In this version, our copywriter infused more personality and aimed to garner more of an emotional response from the audience:

Calling all aspiring trailblazers, innovators and entrepreneurs… Welcome to Natives University, London, where your future starts, now. 
Thrive amongst our vibrant student community, with more than 100 nationalities represented.
Get inspired, and supported by our dedicated professors — experts in their fields who are changing the world right now.
Experience the bright lights, sights and sounds of London, right on your doorstep.
Join us for our open day and see for yourself why Natives University is the perfect place to start your future, now. 
Don’t miss out. Book your place today.

And how did each perform? Well, we went to the Net Natives Student Pulse panel (a group of current and prospective university students in the U.K. that provide their opinions on a variety of topics) to get their feedback.  

First, regardless of the quality, the AI managed to hide in plain sight. About 50% of respondents identified each script as having been written by AI. But, when it comes to the quality, shown in the emotional responses each ad prompted, the results started to shift (thankfully) in our favor: 

  • 56% of respondents were more intrigued by the human script
  • 59% were more excited by the human script
  • 63% found the human script to be more memorable and unique

So, the AI is good at sounding human — it would seem almost as good as a human. Also, it’s good at relaying information. But, as we look at the more emotional qualities of the language generated, it starts to fall short. And the more brand-focused we get, the worse it performs.

Kas Nicholls: Research opportunities

What happens when you ask an AI machine to do your work for you? 

Recently, Net Natives completed a report for a U.S. client looking into the viability of launching a new program and the levels of success that program might have. We thought it would be interesting to see what ChatGPT would create with the same brief that was provided to us. Here’s what we discovered…  

Basically, it can’t tell you which program to launch or why. But, if you were just starting a project like this and weren’t sure of what steps to take, ChatGPT does provide a good overview of the steps and some key data sources to use along the way. The AI also provides useful information about things like key competitors and some of their USPs. 

Screenshot of ChatGPT providing information about launching a Masters of Social Work program.

So, if you want to know what to do for a research project, ChatGPT can help you get about 60% of the way there — but it lacks specialist knowledge. AI can’t give you the answers or combine multiple data sources together to give you a realistic view of the market and your opportunities within it. We found that you still need an expert to do that.

Jake Cuthbert: Advertising opportunities

Working in Paid Media, our team is no stranger to the technology of AI and machine learning. We’ve been embracing it daily for a number of years now. 

For example, Google Ads offers a variety of smart bid strategies that are AI-powered. Through the use of Smart Bidding, we can have tailored bidding based on various data signals such as location, ad copy, and even time of day. 

A key benefit of this approach is the ability to optimize toward lower-funnel goals such as form completions, driving meaningful results for our clients. It gives us the ability to make more accurate bids and reach the right audiences at the right time.

One way ChatGPT can be used for paid media is keyword mining, which is a core part of any search build. At first, this sounded like a game-changer to me. It will save time researching Keyword Planner, looking through old campaigns, and linking keywords together (a process known as “concatenating”). 

So, let’s put it to the test. I started off with the simple task of producing brand-level keywords for the fictitious University of Earth.

Screenshot of ChatGPT producing brand-level keywords for the fictitious "University of Earth."

I was definitely impressed with the results. The AI covered common terms that are frequently searched for brand activity. You can almost start to spot the pattern behind its thinking. However, I found that the quality of the results gradually declined. 

It’s also worth noting the provided keywords aren’t based on data such as search interest or estimated CPCs, which is what Google’s Keyword Planner provides. If I were to take a brand campaign live tomorrow, would I include the above keywords? Quite possibly.  

Now, let’s turn up the difficulty. This time I’ve asked for keywords promoting an undergraduate psychology degree. We’re now introducing parameters that the AI must stay within: keywords shouldn't mention postgraduate study (the U.K. equivalent of master’s or Ph.D.-level programs) or courses other than psychology. 

Screenshot of ChatGPT producing keywords about an undergraduate psychology degree.

At first glance, it’s done an OK job. But, the signs are showing that it struggled a bit more this time. First, two of the generated keywords were around careers, which would likely achieve clicks but would serve ads to the wrong audience. Second, one could argue that keywords such as “curriculum,” “classes,” and “accreditation” aren’t relevant to the product being advertised.

Sticking with the theme of keywords, next, I looked at how ChatGPT performs at identifying negative keywords from a search terms report. When utilizing Smart Bidding on Google Ads, it’s crucial to stay on top of search terms and continually update the negatives. It can be a time-consuming process, especially for larger campaigns. 

In this example, I fed the AI searches from an interior architecture degree campaign and asked it to pick out searches of low relevancy. The results were impressive and definitely provided me with phrases I could incorporate into my negatives. 

Screenshot of ChatGPT identifying negative keywords about interior design.

How about strategy? What if we could fully automate media plans that are created using data from across the web. Here, I requested the best paid media channels for promoting a postgraduate open day.

Screenshot of ChatGPT suggesting the best paid media channels for promoting a postgraduate open day.

What’s been produced here is very reasonable. The platform choices are appropriate for the target audience. Facebook and Instagram offer great targeting capabilities to reach those interested in postgraduate education, LinkedIn is an excellent platform for career-focused individuals, and Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) is excellent at capturing high intent searches. 

However, the selection is very safe and lacks excitement. For example, where’s the mention of TikTok, as I know it’s quickly becoming a must-have platform for higher ed marketing? So, there are limitations to what the AI can offer. 

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