Today’s Marketer Needs to Be a Cyborg, Not a Robot

By Holly Pavlika | 6.14.17

“Together we make a precise and thorough detective unit.”


That's how Dean Koontz described the part-man, part-machine Baker St. Cyr in the 1973 novel A Werewolf Among Us, about a cyber detective whose human side merged with his computer. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly embedded in marketing technology and processes, a cyborg like the character in Koontz’s book is exactly what every marketer needs to become.

All this talk about AI and machine learning makes it easy for a marketer to get excited. More than 80 percent of marketing executives predict AI is the next big thing, according to Demandbase. And Accenture says, “AI is the new UI.” But as we look to create greater efficiencies and scale, we need to balance science with the human element of consumer connections. People are still an essential part of the overall marketing mix, and social media especially is all about human interaction. And neither the relationships consumers create, nor their creativity, can be replaced by machines.

People and people-powered content infuse trust, and that trust drives results for marketers. Balancing science and humanity is vital for reaching today’s consumer, because today’s machines can’t do it alone:


  • Machines don’t understand empathy. Even the boldest predictions set at least another decade before machines achieve human-level consciousness. Until then, humans are all we have to understand how emotions drive consumer behavior.

  • Machines alone can’t build relationships with people. Alan Turing, back in 1950, created The Turing Test to look at a machine’s ability to show behavior indistinguishable from a human. The most successful attempt was in 2014, when the machine convinced only 33 percent of the judges.


  • There is still a failure rate that is not yet acceptable for marketers. Google’s natural language processing algorithms failed to adequately filter hate speech on Youtube, leading to advertiser revolt. A recent report showed that Facebook could only get its Messenger chatbots to fulfill 30 percent of requests without a human agent.


AI is improving rapidly, perhaps at the rate of Moore’s law, but for now marketers need to be realistic about what it can achieve. AI’s shortcomings have highlighted a need for trusted intermediaries who can play a strong role in protecting marketers, media providers, and consumers. Any party managing the supply chain, measuring media, or processing transactions is positioned to mitigate any risk that technology brings to bear in digital media. Fraud detection and viewability are examples of where intermediaries use AI to act as arbiter between buyer and seller.


AI is particularly well suited for repeatable actions, which is why programmatic media has been its first frontier in digital marketing, conducting trillions of transactions each day, learning and optimizing along the way. But the process of creating original content and compelling stories by definition isn’t repeatable and has yet to be replicated by machines in any meaningful way. The man-machine partnership is the only way to achieve human connections and execute complex, millisecond delivery decisions.


Take social media. The democratization of media across social networks and blogs has created new and unique platforms for consumers by consumers. There are 500 instagrammers alone who have the potential to reach at least six million people with a single post. These are 500 media properties that didn’t exist five years ago. The exponential increase in choice is too much for any human media planner to bear. AI will be used to programmatically rank and match marketers with hundreds of thousands of influencers as it continually learns. We believe AI will cut execution time and increase scale by as much as 50 percent over the next year, allowing marketers to home in on factors such as suitability rather than mere follower count, using historical performance as the training data that feeds the machines. Yet the process of creating original content in the voice of a consumer is decidedly analog.

There’s little doubt that as AI sweeps into the future of digital media, it will herald in innovation, increased scale, and an additional level of accountability. But marketers still must treat content creators, social influencers, and consumers as people as we leverage science and data.


When AI maximizes human creativity is when when the machines have the greatest utility. Then the cyborg revolution begins.

About the Author

As SVP of Marketing & Content, Holly Pavlika oversees marketing, public relations and social strategy at Collective Bias, an Inmar Company, which focuses on shopper-focused influencer marketing. Also a blogger, she founded MOMentumNation while serving as the executive creative director and managing director at social media agency Big Fuel.


Holly is an award-winning creative marketing industry veteran who uses her voice for social good with 10X10 Educate Girls, Every Mother Counts, Global Poverty Project and the UN Foundation Shot@Life campaign.