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Dove pledges not to use AI in communications, spurring marketers to think about AI and ‘brand ethos’

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As generative AI continues to evolve, marketers are faced with a choice: Does using the technology in marketing and advertising make sense for their brands? And if it does, then how do they go about doing so?

Using AI in that way doesn’t make sense for all marketers, of course, which is why it’s not surprising to see Dove come out this week with a statement that the beauty brand, known for its now 20-year-old Real Beauty campaign, does not plan on using the tech in its advertising.

“As we navigate the opportunities and challenges that come with new and emerging technology, we remain committed to protect, celebrate and champion Real Beauty,” Alessandro Manfredi, chief marketing officer for Dove, said in the brand’s release on the announcement. (Dove’s PR noted that Manfredi and other Dove executives were unavailable for interviews.) “Pledging to never use AI in our communications is just one step. We will not stop until beauty is a source of happiness, not anxiety, for every woman and girl,” Manfredi added.

That Dove is putting a stake in the ground on this issue makes sense for the beauty behemoth, according to agency execs, who said they see the move as akin to the brand’s stand against photoshopping its advertising. For a brand that touts authenticity and realism as part of its identity, it would make sense to “have a conversation about how AI does or doesn’t deliver on their promise, too,” noted Marty Senn, chief creative officer at creative shop Carmichael Lynch.

“I’m positive others will follow their lead in eschewing AI — even if they don’t want to,” said Harris Wilkinson, chief creative officer at The Marketing Arm. “Gen Z consumers list authenticity as their single most important value. This is why we’ve seen the rise of micro-influencers, lo-fi, casual content and direct dialogue with buyers. And while the appeal of innovations like an AI-powered influencer who never needs a day off is undeniable, if brands claim they are authentic, eventually their audiences will demand they prove it.”

Whether other brands will take a similar stance on AI as Dove and make a solid commitment remains yet to be seen. Some brands like Aerie and Target made headlines in the 2010s for following Dove’s lead and committing to not using photoshop in ads, but those efforts have been few and far between since then.

“Dove’s announcement echoes the longstanding pledges of many brands to refrain from using Photoshop retouching in their advertising, yet this bold stance has not become an industry standard and I anticipate a similar trajectory regarding AI adoption,” said David Vélez, executive strategy director at media company Remezcla. “Nonetheless, Dove’s move emphasizes a vital lesson for marketers: customizing AI strategies to align with their brand ethos. Strategizing how AI fits with their brand, products and audience is key to adopting it into their marketing and content creation.”

As marketers are thinking about their path forward with generative AI, they need to consider whether the tech will add value to their brands, if it enhances or minimizes their product or service, if their audiences are skeptical of AI, or if they are AI aficionados, explained Vélez.

“The infusion of AI into brands will spawn a variety of AI approaches, from campaigns avoiding AI entirely to those proudly proclaiming, ‘Creativity powered by AI,’” said Vélez. “As AI continues to influence the advertising landscape, brands must embrace this evolution strategically, ensuring that innovation aligns with their core values and resonates with their audiences.”

Some believe the commitment not to use AI in communications could be problematic for Dove down the road, should it decide to reverse course. Doing so could cause backlash and create a PR headache, explained Ty Gates, communications director at Mother USA.

Jeff Rosenblum, co-CEO and founding partner at media shop Questus, said he believes that Dove’s commitment is “on-brand, on-strategy” and an “absolutely ethical maneuver to make.”

“That said, it would be disingenuous for all brands to promise to never use generative AI,” Rosenblum added. “AI will be a critical tool for any brand that wants to quickly and strategically tell their story, and over the next few years it will be proven that virtually all brands will need AI to scale and compete.”

Rosenblum continued: “The ethical challenge for most brands is not about whether or not to use AI, but rather how to use AI. It needs to be used in service of the audience, empowering people and creating value. It needs to be used transparently and authentically. Equally important — internal teams at brands and agencies need to be empowered to use AI to improve their jobs, not replace their jobs.”

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