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AI Debate: A Summary

Thursday May 24, 2018 at 10:29am

On Monday 21st May, the IPM sponsored a debate for The Debating Group, an organisation that regularly holds debates on political issues which surround marketing within the House of Commons. This debate centred on the effect Artificial Intelligence in marketing has on consumer choice, a contrastingly modern topic to be discussed in the historic building of Westminster Palace building.

Today, we live in a world where we can buy anything and everything we want in one-click, a world in which our search history and personal data is sold to send us personalised marketing messages. In this current environment AI is working behind the scenes and is growing and increasing in intelligence at a rapid speed. Are we sure AI’s benefits outweigh the potential risks? It made for a lively and engaging debate. The motion was:

“AI-driven marketing threatens consumer choice”


  • Rob Sellers, Managing Director, Grey Shopper
  • Marc Curtis, Ideation Manager, Lyreco Group


  • Dr Windsor Holden, Head of Forecasting, Juniper Research
  • Alasdair Todd, Researcher to the Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan DBE MP​

AI harms consumers and prevents creativity
First to speak, Rob Sellers proposed the motion that AI is in fact a threat to consumer choice. Sellers’ argument began by demystifying AI as the robots and androids of SciFi, stating that it is in reality all about algorithms set to make “cold, hard cash” whilst disregarding the customer. Sellers presented what he termed a “Black-Mirror-esque” view by tapping into the emotive response many have towards AI and the fear that what makes us inherently human may be lost as we continue to rely more on computers.

His argument focused on the value of free choice, how it makes us fundamentally human: "consumers yearn for variety and discovery,” Sellers stated. Choice encourages competition and “open source creativity at its best;” some of the best and most innovative brand marketing strategies have arisen because the goal is to prove what their brand can offer customers that others cannot. Whereas the human mind has the ability to express creativity, AI is cold and analytical, able only to serve as a means to gain profit. Ultimately, Sellers urged the audience to “resist the rise of the machines” and fall victim to AI as it threatens the very things that makes us human, our free choice and our inspiration.

AI helps and benefits consumers with curation
Dr Windsor Holden challenged this argument, seeing AI marketing as an important business tool with the ability to make the consumer experience better. By personalising the marketing experience, AI essentially cuts out the noise by offering individuals a smaller selection of products instead of leaving them to trawl through the thousands available online. AI marketing can, then, limit “consumer bafflement” and increase consumer loyalty by offering consumers a streamlined, stress-free way to buy. Holden maintained that consumers do not want too much choice: our time is too valuable to look at millions of Amazon products. Ultimately, Holden contended that “AI enables more efficient business processes” which in turn works in the consumers favour by creating a better service.


Language disguises the fact consumers are losing choice
Proposing the motion alongside Rob Sellers, Marc Curtis stated that “unfiltered choice” is what makes us fundamentally human. ​We would find it unnerving if someone were to make choices for us. Using the example of going out to eat with someone who chose the date, the restaurant, our meal and our clothes for us, Curtis highlighted the unsettling nature of having our choice seized from us. 

Curtis claimed that we are being unknowingly sold AI marketing through the “language of choice.” We think we are getting a better consumer experience and are buying into vocabulary like “personalised,” “convenience,” “frictionless and “curated.” This lexicon makes us feel more comfortable with our slowly diminishing ability to choose. We are left with only the “illusion of choice,” and the belief that AI marketing is making our lives easier. The reality is that this “relinquishing of choice makes us unhappy.”


AI threatens our pride not our choice
Alasdair Todd then opposed the motion in a philosophical approach to the argument. Todd stated that we are needlessly afraid of new technologies like AI that are apparently set to replace us: human pride is the only thing threatened by AI, not consumer choice. Todd argued that our choice is not threatened because we retain the absolute decision at the point of purchase. AI marketing actually works in a way that is not new to marketing - it is the core process of strategically placing a product in front of a consumer. In fact, argued Todd, AI actually widens consumer choice as it allows us to access significantly more products online, than we could in-store.​

The audience presented a number of other perspectives on the topic. Some thought AI could thwart innovation, acting as a barrier to small businesses and start-ups by preventing consumers from discovering new products. One audience member stated that AI is something that is welcome when it comes to helping make the mundane aspects of life – like buying bin bags – easier and more convenient. Another pointed out that we were once afraid of the computer and AI marketing is just a part of the process of technological advances “we shouldn’t be afraid” of.​

Finally, the audience were asked to PROPOSE or OPPOSE the motion that “AI driven marketing threatens consumer choice.”

The results were:

This came as a surprising result as AI is often perceived as a frightening subject and, as Sellers and Curtis argued, something that appears to threaten the core nature of humanity: our free, unfiltered choice. Despite this, the majority vote expresses a faith in AI marketing and a belief that the technology can be utilised without completely relinquishing consumer choice. Rather than taking away our choice, AI is a useful tool to make eCommerce a smooth and easy process that increases consumer loyalty.

The debate result can also be viewed from a more negative angle, perhaps it reflects that we are blind to the continuing decrease in consumer choice. To read Marc Curtis' thoughts on the reason he believes he lost the debate and why he thinks we are “sliding silently into a future where our ability to make decisions for ourselves has become so stunted that we don’t even realise it’s gone,” click here.

To read the full debate transcript, click here.

Alex Lawrence, Content Executive, IPM
» Categories: General, Opinion