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Advertisement in the age of AI

Have you ever been freaked out by the pop-up ads as they are exactly what you were talking about with your friend on a personal chat or something you browsed few days ago? These messages are no coincidence rather an effective combination of good marketing and Internet of Things.

Advertising at its heart is about convincing people how much they need to buy the product or service being advertised. According to research, a single ad has roughly 15 seconds to hook the audience and to persuade them to buy the product or service being advertised. The sheer volume of advertising has increased dramatically in last decades; however, previous system of advertising was broken and ineffective as per the current standards as billions of dollars were wasted on adverts that were neither seen nor deemed relevant to the customers daily life. This change in customer behaviour and fourth industrial revolution together are introducing a new era of marketing called “Targeted Display Advertising” (TDA). This system precisely uses the data generated by consumers to deliver personalized ads that resonate with them. It aims to improve the buyer experience as AI (artificial intelligence) powered tools actively use the data to predict the needs of buyers and recommend items according to users’ preferences. They have the ability to fine tune the experience by personalizing the adverts for each user.

TDA enables marketing experts and organizations to use big data to leverage users’ devices such as mobile phones and smart watches that track their patterns and preferences as to what they search for, how much time they spend on specific pages and websites etc. thus, outlining their preferences solely based on their browsing histories. This data enables companies to use subtle messaging for nudging users in a certain direction using pop up ads.

Advertising has a clearly defined parameter of success that either user opened the page or not or they bought the good/service or not. With such measurable results, it is even more convenient for algorithm to decide if the targeted ad has been effective or not. Deep learning AI will use this data to learn and tune itself to improve the suggestion over time based on what the user shows interest in and eventually buys.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics studied 135 different apps for children available at the Google Play store. They found that 100% of free apps and 88% of paid apps included pop up video ads. This digital based advertising was personalized and embedded in the interactive apps. It included videos,consistent banner ads and characters persuading kids to make in-app purchases. Under this technological advancement, advertising has become an art form designed to manipulate people to sell their own product/service.

Most of our day, we drift between screens, mobile to laptops to TVs and so forth. We are surrounded by a wave of white noise that acts as a major obstacle for advertisers as they work to catch our attention amongst all the distractions. An extreme solution is using virtual reality, a headset that removes any form of external interruption by exposing the ears and eyes of consumer to specific content. This stops consumers mind from wandering, thus, making subliminal messaging hard to avoid.


This technology has the ability to transform opportunities for learning, teaching, entertainment, rehabilitation and tourism to name a few. However, if masses adopt to the concept of strapping a VR device to their heads, a major concern would be the impact of this completely immersive experience. How would this revolutionize the role of subliminal advertising?

Subliminal advertising has the ability to wield a much severe impact on the audience in the given immersive nature of VR. Currently, a study found that smartwatch and few music apps had the capacity to play subliminal messages at a frequency overlaying music that cannot be detected by the ear but absorbed at the subconscious level. This seemingly harmless technology has the potential to be valuable not only to advertising agencies but also avenues looking to influence masses such as political campaigns. Therefore, making it one of the most powerful tools to create or confront bias. Skilled marketers use the adverts to move people with their ability to make or break stereotypes and everyday biases.

Audience is constantly bombarded by media images that target our subconscious brain to make shortcuts that affect our thinking patterns. Certain images can trigger these associations. Therefore, highlighting the role entertainment sector can play to perpetuate or eliminate stereotypes, affecting the tolerance in society. Content inspired and created with authentic information and positive subliminal messages can help reduce the biases.

Therefore, technologies like TDA and VR that have the ability to potentially manipulate users cannot be left unregulated. The responsibility falls on the ad designer and marketers to encourage corporate transparency related to marketing and company efforts to influence consumers by using personal data. Moreover,policymakers need to appoint a committee of representatives from relevant stakeholder groups to vet ad content and labelled as per designed for suitable age-appropriate audience before it is broadcasted.

The writer, Amna S. Sandhu is a Research Associate — Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)

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