This article was originally published in Thai-American Business Magazine.
Early last year, Coca-Cola launched a first-of-its-kind AI platform to engage digital artists, ad creatives, and fans to generate original artwork with iconic creative assets from the brand’s archives. At a time when the creative and advertising industry feared the potential displacement of human talent by artificial intelligence, the beverage company initiated a campaign to empower creatives to collaborate with generative AI.
It was a bold move — even a risky stance of deploying a largely uncharted technology — but it gave the world more than just a glimpse of the future. As the beverage company’s CEO James Quincey said, not taking the risk is a hopeless point of view to start from.
The creative and advertising economy is currently undergoing a significant transformation, pushing industry players beyond boundaries that have been in place for decades. With generative AI thrust into the mainstream, it would be more challenging for brands to escape its long shadow than to leverage its power in driving the best possible business outcomes.
Democratizing the Creative Industry
For a long time, advertising was a game dominated by big players. Only massive corporations with substantial budgets could afford grand campaigns from top-tier agencies, leaving small businesses to rely on traditional methods and word-of-mouth to make a mark in the market.
Thanks to the latest innovations, even the smallest businesses create extensive ads. Generative AI has given industry players a considerably more level playing field to reach customers and forge brand loyalty. Marketers, creative producers, graphic designers, and copywriters are learning to break free from traditional practices and create quality creative content that was seemingly out of reach just a few years ago.
This shift did not and will not shake up the big names in advertising, as many have feared. However, it is a game-changer for small companies with big ambitions. With AI offering a fair chance to join the transformation of the advertising and creative industry, brands and marketers can revolutionize personalization at scale, using customer insights and creativity to craft tailored and engaging content that resonates with individual customers on a deeper level.
The technology conglomerate Meta rolled out its first generative AI features for advertisers, allowing customization of creative assets by generating multiple diverse backgrounds to change the look of product images. Creating varied backgrounds for product images traditionally involved costly and time-consuming commercial shoots. Meta’s generative AI streamlines this process, allowing brands to efficiently customize visuals based on the preferences and characteristics of their target markets. This reduces the logistical challenges associated with multiple shooting times and opens new possibilities for agile and responsive marketing strategies, regardless of the size of the business.
Bridging the Language Gap, Capturing Global Audiences
The goal of the creative and advertising industry is to reach as wide an audience as possible, connecting people across geographical boundaries and diverse cultures. However, language differences hinder effective communication. Imagine if your favorite Korean or Thai dramas were devoid of translation options. How devastating would that be?
To address this linguistic challenge, AI-driven language translation and localization tools have become pivotal in making creative content accessible globally. As the world’s largest streaming service, Netflix has significantly intensified its localization efforts with high-quality subtitles and dubs. Netflix’s global success stems from its ability to make its content, wherever it may be produced, to be culturally relevant to international audiences.
Concurrently, Disney’s commitment to content localization is evident in its increased spending, reaching 33 billion Dollars in 2022 compared to 25 billion Dollars in 2021, as disclosed by Andrew Aherne, the company’s VP of distribution operations. Disney Plus now provides an expanding array of languages and subtitles, enhancing the platform’s appeal and delivering a personalized viewing experience.
Several AI startups and creative platforms, including Deepdub, Papercup, Resemble AI, and ElevenLabs, actively contribute to the field, providing dubbing services for domestic and international studios, streaming services, gaming, and creators.
Regulating the Use of AI to Protect Creative Talents
As AI use in the advertising industry accelerates, governments are seeking to implement foundational rules to ensure ethical practices, transparent utilization, and liability. The EU, Britain, and Australia, among other nations, are already in the process of drafting policies to regulate the use of this technological tool. Meanwhile, China has issued a set of temporary measures requiring companies to submit security assessments and obtain clearance before releasing mass-market AI products. Italy initially banned the platform over data privacy issues but restored access less than a month later. In contrast, the US has allowed tech companies to develop their own AI guardrails.
A pressing question demanding attention is whether the extensive data utilized to train large language models requires consent from authors, artists, and producers, or if there is a requirement to acknowledge and provide compensation for the utilization of their works. A lawsuit filed by Getty Images, accusing Stability AI of copying over 12 million images from its database, has brought conversations about intellectual property (IP), copyright infringement, and plagiarism to the forefront.
The ethical hazards, as highlighted by many artists and AI critics, underscore the need for more precise boundaries and legal frameworks in the realm of AI-driven content creation. Effectively addressing intellectual property issues requires a collective effort from different stakeholders. AI developers must adhere to data acquisition laws, ensuring proper licensing or compensation for IP used in training models. Users, whether individuals and businesses, should exercise caution, inquire about training data sources, review terms of service and privacy policies, and avoid AI tools lacking confirmation of proper licensing or adherence to open-source licenses.
Implementing robust IP protection laws is crucial for securing the rights of human creative talents, while also fostering an environment conducive to innovation and creativity by ensuring that creators receive protection and recognition. It is a delicate balancing act between technological advancements and societal safety, but there is really no other way to foster sustainable growth than by promoting responsible and ethical innovation.
As we anticipate further disruption from AI-powered content in the creative and advertising industry, we see a future free from conventional limits. The intersection of artificial intelligence and human ingenuity is an exciting territory to explore – and we are only at the beginning of a long, long road. While ChatGPT cannot predict its own future development (we asked it), what is certain is that AI has arrived, and there is no going back.
The AI revolution has started? Check out how AI-powered agency Rover is leading this new era in PR and marketing.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Leveraging more than 10 years of local and regional planning experience, Phuc Ngo is the Founding Vice President at Rover. He specializes in brand strategy and IMC through PR, digital, and social
As the Founding Vice President at Rover, Khine Zar Thwe spearheads agency accounts, nurtures client relationships, and formulates insightful strategies.
1. The ubiquity of AI
While few agencies talk about it publicly, it is an open secret that 2023 was the year when AI became omnipresent among marketing creatives. While human creativity and expertise are still essential to produce a polished final product, machine learning has dramatically shortened the pipeline from ideation to demonstration, as marketers in Southeast Asia harness generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Google Bard, Bing AI, Canva Magic Write, and GitHub Co-Pilot to create personalized content, streamline workflows, and enhance user experiences.
ChatGPT may not produce high-quality original copy, but it does a good job at creating outlines in flawless English, making it handy for non-native speakers working across language barriers. It also powers chatbots on e-commerce platforms, providing instant customer support in various languages — crucial for brands that operate in multiple markets. Midjourney and Dall-E, meanwhile, are proving helpful in previewing a range of visual concepts before developing them into final designs. It has even been used in the final product of a well-received campaign by Pizza Hut Singapore.
The region is also catching up with AI-created influencers like the virtual Puma ambassador MAYA, whose appearance is based on selfies sent by people across Southeast Asia.
With its deep learning capabilities, Google Bard enables marketers to generate high-quality content for diverse audiences, while Bing AI and GitHub Co-Pilot empower marketers with advanced tools for content generation and collaborative coding.
With ASEAN expected to take a relatively hands-off approach to regulation, it is certain that AI will be everywhere in the years to come — and skills with the relevant AI tools will become a standard job requirement in the industry. In fact, we at Vero feel so strongly about this that we established an AI-focused sister agency, Rover, this year.
2. Brands adopting sustainability as a new USP
Sustainability in terms of both the environment and business practices is a larger concern for Southeast Asia’s Gen Z than previous generations, and brands are making the shift to meet them where their priorities lie.
One organization, Clean Creatives, has become a beacon for sustainable marketing practices around the world. The group names and shames big PR agencies that work with fossil fuel brands, including many operating in Southeast Asia, which seek to downplay and distract from the realities of human-caused climate change. Agencies can also take the Clean Creatives Pledge to refuse fossil fuel contracts, as Vero did in late 2022 and several others across the region have done since.
Brands in the region are increasingly adopting eco-friendly campaigns, reflecting the growing commitment to environmental consciousness. Studies show that Southeast Asian consumers approve of brands that prioritize sustainability, and some are willing to spend more on it. As such, the spread of sustainable marketing practices is a response to consumer demand and a strategic move to align with the younger generation’s values.
On the downside, as interest in sustainability has grown, the practice of greenwashing has become more popular than ever, making it a growing concern in the industry and a threat to consumer trust in genuine sustainability endeavors. With this in mind, Vero released a Greenwashing Playbook earlier this year to help communicators identify greenwashing before they develop a campaign rather than face backlash later.
3. The explosive entrance of TikTok Mall
Social commerce, in general, was a massive marketing trend in 2023. Integration of selling and shopping in the user journey on social media has created a seamless experience, and brands doing it right are doing well — but none did it more impressively than TikTok.
TikTok, synonymous with short-form videos, has become a trusted platform for Gen Z in Southeast Asia. Its growing influence in e-commerce has created opportunities for savvy brands to capitalize on the platform’s popularity among younger demographics.
The platform seems particularly tailored for Southeast Asia, having launched this year in six countries across the region (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and only two (the US and UK) outside of it.
In Thailand, TikTok Mall secured 4% of the total 4.4 billion GMV for the industry in 2023, placing it third behind the established e-commerce giants Shopee (56%) and Lazada (40%). TikTok’s success lies in offering a seamless e-commerce experience and leveraging its user base with tools like the new TikTok Mall.
In Indonesia, TikTok Mall grew so fast that it spooked regulators, leading to a ban on social commerce in October. Now, just a couple of months later, it looks to be making a return with ByteDance’s purchase of Tokopedia — a testament to the massive potential the parent company sees in social commerce.
The Philippines, home to the 7th largest number of TikTok users, welcomed a new phenomenon, the “budol culture,” where Filipinos buy something unplanned because they were influenced by social media, specifically by TikTok.
The platform’s power to influence consumer behaviors and its impact on businesses is expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead.
4. Influencer marketing shifts to loyalty and authenticity
Influencer marketing in Southeast Asia has never been bigger – or more inclusive. Far from the celebrity focus of yore, Nano influencers and niche creators are growing in influence, especially among Gen Z, who are looking for more authentic voices that represent them.
For evidence that influencers are trusted more than brands, look no further than the de-influencing trend that took hold early this year.
Building long-lasting relationships with influencers is essential for agencies aiming at a higher ROI. The Southeast Asian market is witnessing a shift towards authenticity that only grew more pronounced this year, with brands recognizing the impact of genuine connections. Increasingly sophisticated consumers can discern short-term influencer campaigns and see them as one-offs rather than significant relationships. Recognizing this, brands focus on creating enduring content, working with fewer influencers but taking time to foster more authentic relationships with them.
As a result of this trend, brands are finding that it’s no longer necessary to invest millions in owned content or advertising, as influencers are starting to plug this space more affordably. Loyal, relevant influencers create more authentic content and assets to drive awareness and education, which they then amplify on their brand feeds rather than creating their own branded assets. These long-term partnerships tend to yield a higher ROI and foster stronger connections with the target audience — and they’re the reason Vero launched InFluent, a marketing stack designed to help brands find the right influencer for them, in March 2023.
5. Leveling up engagement through gamification
Southeast Asia’s young demographic is deeply engaged in mobile gaming culture, making it a prime space for marketers. Recognizing the elements that make games popular (such as scores, rewards, and competition), brands are increasingly incorporating gamification into their social media campaigns to captivate and retain the attention of their target audience.
E-commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee integrate games to make shopping fun and keep people coming back for rewards in the form of coins, vouchers, daily bonuses, and prizes like promotional items or invitations to exclusive events. Duolingo, which has achieved steady growth in paid subscribers in the region, uses the gamification model to motivate regular language learning habits, propelling it to record growth in Vietnam and Indonesia.
And it goes both ways: brands are spending more on promotions in standalone games such as Roblox and Fortnite, which are popular among youth, sponsoring unique experiences that gamers actively engage with rather than passively take in.
These broad trends only scratch the surface of changes to the Southeast Asian marketing landscape in 2023. If we can leave brands with one big takeaway that ties these together, it would be to go beyond thinking of your audience as mere consumers and instead work to cultivate a fanbase. This entails fostering a dedicated community of enthusiasts who view themselves as an integral part of your brand and, in the best of cases, have real stakes in the business. Brands could accomplish this in many ways: through influencers, social engagement, values like sustainability, or just quality products that address consumer pain points.
The fanbase approach goes beyond transactional relationships, emphasizing the creation of emotional connections and a sense of belonging. While consumers may engage with your brand for a single transaction, fans are in it for the long haul, often contributing to brand equity by championing your values and products, even when they aren’t actively making purchases. If you show your young audience how much you value them now, you could have not just fans but real brand ambassadors for life.
We look back on the trending AI controversies that have sparked thought-provoking conversations in Thailand this year. | Artwork by Anuphab Buddhaphan
With AI taking center stage in the tech world in 2023, there’s no denying that it’s here to stay, and it is starting to make big waves among local businesses and communities. In the meantime, we consumers and end users find ourselves thrown into a whirlwind of sensations and social theatrics. Thailand’s distinctly sardonic online culture is well suited for the zeitgeist, so naturally, AI wouldn’t be excluded from mockery, especially among the tech and art communities.
As the year comes to a close, join us as we look back on the trending AI controversies of 2023 that have made millions of Thai netizens stop scrolling and engage with brands and artists. We will also explore how marketers and brands can take advantage of this ever-evolving landscape while respecting customers’ diverse views on AI.
By the numbers
Thailand is arguably among the most enthusiastic adopters of AI, with various initiatives in both public and private sectors aiming to integrate AI into their systems to improve both productivity and creativity by automating menial tasks. According to a report by the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) and National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), over 50% of Thai companies have plans for AI implementation. Among those that have already integrated AI, their objectives include improving production or organizational service efficiency (50%), facilitating internal management (43%), and increasing revenue (36%).
In a recent survey by Publicis Sapient gauging perceptions of Gen AI across seven countries, Thailand stood out prominently. Of the 2,061 Thai respondents, over a third (35%) had personally or professionally used Generative AI tools, placing Thailand near the top for AI usage, just behind Australia (38%). Additionally, 55% of Thai consumers said they expect that Generative AI will enhance their interactions with brands.
AI has landed in Thailand, but not safely
ChatGPT launched in November 2022 and gained significant traction in Thailand in early 2023. Early users were fascinated by its versatility in tasks like answering questions, crafting content, and sparking creative ideas—a boon for students, marketers, and brands alike.
As the AI phenomenon gripped the online world, it also prompted a shift in how corporate and creative professionals operate. Difficult questions arose: How do we keep up with AI? What sets our work apart from AI-generated content? How reliable are these AI-generated responses? How can we copyright AI-prompted work? With these queries in mind, let’s delve into how the Thai creative community is responding to the rise of AI.
Thailand’s art scene shaken
Vero’s examination of social media discussions about AI shows that Thai people are especially concerned about AI’s impact on the art world.
The Loopsie app has thrown Thailand’s art and literature community for a loop. Leveraging AI, Loopsie transforms existing photos into anime-inspired images, creating an overnight sensation. The controversy was heightened when Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Painting, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts shared a Loopsie-generated creation of their faculty common space on their Facebook page. An outcry ensued, with existing students and alumni condemning the faculty’s decision to use AI over genuine student art to promote their program, and concerns were raised about the ethical use of existing art references without clear consent. Given the context of an art department within Thailand’s foremost university dedicated to arts, the choice to employ AI-generated art is undeniably ironic — and apparently misguided. AI certainly has its place, but we shouldn’t underestimate the backlash that results when it usurps human creativity.
New job of 2023: AI Artist
Case in point: On October 19, 2023, The Ghost Radio, an online radio show in Thailand renowned for horror storytelling, took to their social media to announce a job opening for an “AI Artist” role. The objective was to assist the team in creating illustrations for the ghost stories featured in the program. However, the posting was promptly withdrawn in the wake of backlash, with critics questioning the ethics of AI, particularly its training from pre-existing works where the consent of the original artists remains uncertain.
The team quickly issued an apology to their audience, affirming that internal discussions and viewer feedback were considered, and they ultimately decided to cancel the recruitment:
“The team acknowledges the public outcry and comments and has extensively deliberated on the matter internally. Consequently, we have reached a decision to cancel the recruitment for this particular position. The Ghost Radio sincerely apologizes for the events that transpired and is open to hearing every opinion of our viewer.”
– Statement from The Ghost Radio, posted on Facebook page, October 19, 2023
While some expressed disappointment with the show and even threatened to stop tuning in, most of the audience praised the team for their courage and for paying attention to public sentiment, particularly in supporting artists and genuine art.
In September 2023, another controversy surfaced when online novelists formed a coalition against the use of AI-generated cover art, which has been one of the primary avenues for new artists to have their work seen. This sparked a heated debate on X (formerly Twitter) regarding the impact of AI on artistic expression and job opportunities for emerging artists with the hashtag #นักเขียนไม่เอาปกAI (#WriterSaysNoToAIArt). On the other side, some have argued that novelists have the freedom to choose AI-generated art, provided they are upfront with their readers about it, and those readers can choose whether to support such choices.
Transparency is key
The overarching theme is clear: concerns about AI dominance have brought to the forefront a profound appreciation for artistic integrity. Artists and their audiences care about the essence of art, the effort invested in its creation, and fair compensation for creators. Transparency has emerged as a critical value in this evolving landscape.
Adobe, the vanguard behind the renowned Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, has taken a unique approach to AI in art. Adobe Firefly, a web app, explores generative AI’s potential in art creation, incorporating a compensation model for contributing artists. In publicizing the app, the company emphasizes responsible AI development:
“Adobe is committed to developing generative AI responsibly, with creators at the center. Our mission is to give creators every advantage — not just creatively, but practically. As Firefly evolves, we’ll continue to work closely with the creative community to build technology that supports and improves the creative process.”
– Adobe’s approach to generative AI, as seen on the Adobe Firefly landing page.
What this means for AI adopters
While some software providers are making efforts to be transparent and ethical when deploying AI, the majority lack clear guidelines, which raises concerns about the potential for creators to face plagiarism in their work.
Although many businesses are now implementing AI into their products and services, the backlash from the public and artistic communities shows that there is strong resistance to AI art taking the place of art made by humans, which stems both from the typical fear of people losing jobs to AI but also broader societal concerns about the loss of original, disruptive ideas. While it’s true that humans draw inspiration from past artistic works and sometimes imitate or train from existing materials, human creative expression also draws from an individual’s unique life experiences, feelings, and perceptions and combines those in ways that can be powerful and revelatory. As such, AI can never meaningfully replace human artists.
For brands and marketers, one thing is clear: transparency and honesty with audiences are invaluable. This is always the case for earning brand trust, but it’s especially crucial when dealing with sensitive topics such as AI. For most brands, having the public perceive that they support artists is worth more than the time or money might save using AI.
Few things are certain about the future of AI, but it’s clear that this is not just a passing trend; it’s an inevitable transformative force that has become an integral part of our creative landscape. For brands, it will be essential to navigate this landscape responsibly and stay attuned to the evolving dynamic between AI and artistic expression.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chanon Raopanya consults on communications strategy for tech brands and corporate clients such as Intel, Sennheiser, and Mastercard. As a technology, film, and gaming enthusiast, he is always excited about technological advancements and innovation in products and services.
Vero, a leading communications consultancy in Southeast Asia, is today launching an AI-first PR agency called Rover. The new agency will act as an incubator for AI-powered brand campaigns and processes, producing work for new and existing clients and seeking partnerships with other AI-focused stakeholders in the PR industry, including AI-applications, trade groups, non-profits, academics, and thought leaders. It will operate alongside Vero’s existing offices in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Vero has already integrated generative AI tools into its creative, content, data, and planning processes. The launch of Rover sees Vero invest further in AI capabilities to accelerate and diversify its internal learning and client offerings.
Rover is spearheaded by Founding VPs Skylar Thwe and Hong Phuc Ngo and will launch with a collective of practitioners made up of consultants, creatives, planners, media relations specialists, editors, strategists, data analysts, and media buyers.
Discussing Rover’s plans, Skylar says, “We believe that a dedicated AI agency built from scratch is the best way for us to accelerate our learning and to share it with colleagues and clients.”
Rover provides a wide range of PR and Creative services for clients across sectors, leveraging AI-powered tools to improve workflow efficiency, digital content, and output accuracy. The agency is also equipped to provide AI consulting and literacy training for brands seeking to embed best practices for AI within their organizations and in-house communications and marketing teams.
“AI technology is now ripe. Brands using artificial intelligence to amplify human creativity are empowered to tell bigger and bolder stories, so PR and communications agencies must be fluent in AI to accompany their clients on this journey,” says Hong Phuc Ngo.
Rover deploys AI productivity tools such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Firefly to accelerate and automate content creation across various media formats, including text, images, 3D videos, animation, voice synthesis, and music. These tools will enable copywriters, editors, and designers to create bigger stories with a more diverse range of styles, tones, and formats and reach more audiences in far less time.
Additionally, audience analytics and consumer sentiment analysis tools break down extensive datasets into actionable segments that can be used to refine media pitches, messaging, and executive communications for Rover’s clients. These real-time insights enable prompt adjustments and enhance campaign ROI.
Rover’s AI-driven methods further support improved influencer collaborations, marketing strategies, trend identification, and immersive experiences. Rover aims to provide safe and legitimate AI-enhanced work to the public and its clients by acknowledging the ever-evolving AI technology and PR landscapes. In doing so, it follows five guiding principles, including:
- Ethical AI Practices: Commit to ethical AI use in PR and communication activities by respecting data privacy and consent standards and tracking AI tool providers’ progress in AI alignment and bias risk.
- Transparent AI Utilization: Maintain transparency in the use of AI with clients and the public.
- Fact-Checked Content: Ensure that all AI-generated content aligns with verified facts and accurate information.
- Compliance and Regulation: Stay informed about AI-related regulations and compliance requirements, particularly those related to data privacy and disclosure in communications.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Explore partnerships with AI technology providers, academics, thought leaders, and non-profit organizations to effectively harness AI’s potential in enhancing PR and communications efforts.
Rover, an affiliate of award-winning communications consultancy Vero, is an AI-first brand communications agency based in Southeast Asia, specializing in AI-powered public relations and marketing services across a wide range of industries in the region. Recognizing the transformative power of artificial intelligence in the communications industry, Rover combines emerging tools and human creativity to deliver innovative branding strategies, creative campaigns, critical data analysis and interpretation, public and media relations, and media buying. The agency operates alongside parent company Vero’s offices in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. Rover is actively recruiting prompt specialists. For further information on Rover, please visit www.rover-asean.com contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Rover on LinkedIn, too.