Research Briefing: Publishers weigh how to best use generative AI as marketers forge ahead

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

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In this week’s Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine how publishers are cautiously approaching generative AI, 2023’s top media and marketing trends, and the year’s platform winners and losers, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research. We also take a look back at our year-end video discussion about marketers’ holiday commerce strategies with Digiday Media’s editors-in-chief.

43% of marketers use AI for copy generation

Publishers are considering how best to incorporate generative artificial intelligence technology into their newsrooms in 2024, after advancements in the tech swept across the globe last year. OpenAI’s ChatGPT gained steam, and tech giants like Google and Microsoft began to develop their own large language models.

Editorial executives Digiday spoke with were adamant about the importance of approaching generative AI with caution — especially for editorial production. Jacob Salamon, Trusted Media Brand’s vp of business development, said he is focusing on internal applications, “before we think about anything that’s going to be customer-facing or reader-facing. Because that’s way too risky. [AI is] way too new to kind of dive all in on that.”

However, as AI becomes more mainstream with consumers, marketers have started to look to the technology as an important part of their toolkits. Chatbots and AI assistants remained marketers’ most common application of AI tech in 2023, with the majority of respondents (51%) selecting chatbots and AI assistants as the top natural language processing or AI technology their company used last year. This is according to Digiday+ Research’s recent report on the state of AI.

Interestingly, marketers’ second-most used application of AI technology was for copy generation. And, among marketers who use AI for copy generation, nearly three-quarters (71%) said they use copy generation for editorial and consumer-facing purposes — this is in stark contrast to how the publishers Digiday spoke with said they plan to use generative AI in 2024.

Insights and stats:

  • “Our posture is, [AI] is going to change things. And so we might as well be proactive and think about it and start working on it. But journalism is one of those professions where you do something wrong, people get hurt. And so we really want to be careful.” — Nicholas Carlson, Business Insider’s editor-in-chief
  • Sales communication was marketers’ No. 2 use of AI-generated copy, with almost half of respondents (46%) using it for B2B sales communication in 2023. Meanwhile, almost one-third of marketers (32%) use AI-generated copy for internal purposes, like writing reports. 

Read more about the state of AI

Digiday+ Research Digest

Third-party cookies and publishers’ revenues were two of last year’s bigger trends, according to Digiday+ Research’s recent roundup of 2023’s top stories. With the death of the third-party cookie looming in 2024, almost three-quarters of agency and brand professionals said last year that their businesses were actively preparing for a cookieless future. Meanwhile, publishers were not feeling great about ad revenue as 2023 kicked off, but programmatic ads continued to be a big business for them — with room to grow.

The stats:

  • Almost three-quarters of agency pros (73%) and brand pros (72%) respectively said in Q2 2023 that they agreed somewhat or strongly that their businesses were actively preparing for a cookieless future.
  • Forty-three percent of publisher pros said heading into 2023 that they agreed their companies’ ad revenue would grow in 2023, down from 75% in 2022.
  • Eighty-five percent of publisher pros said in Q1 2023 that they got at least a very small portion of their revenue from programmatic ads, and 84% said they put at least some focus on growing that part of their business.

Read more about 2023’s top trends

Platforms like TikTok soared in 2023, while others like Snapchat and X had a rough time. TikTok kicked off the year in the hot seat with its DOJ investigation, however, the percentage of brand pros who devoted at least a very small portion of their marketing budget to TikTok jumped significantly in 2023. Twitter died and was reincarnated as X, but the number of brands and retailers who actively used X suffered a big drop between 2022 and 2023. It was also a tough year for Snapchat. Most marketers agree Snap is great for innovation, but the company’s attempts to streamline operations and cut costs have hit advertisers.

Insights and stats:

  • “Filters and lenses are one of Snapchat’s big differentiators. But while they [Snap] say closing its AR Enterprise division hasn’t impacted business, we’ve actually had experiences where clients had worked with that team, so it has impacted advertiser output, and therefore results.” — a U.S. advertiser, who exchanged honesty for anonymity
  • Seventy-eight percent of brand pros said in Q3 2023 that at least a very small portion of their marketing budgets went toward TikTok — a big jump from the 54% who said the same in Q1 2023.
  • In 2023, barely more than a third of brand and retailer pros (35%) told Digiday their brands posted content to X in the past month, down from just shy of three-quarters (73%) in 2022.

Read more about 2023’s platform winners and losers

The year-end holiday shopping season is always a crucial moment for most brands and retailers as consumers flock to stores and websites to purchase gifts — driving a surge in sales. With the stakes so high for marketers, Digiday+ Research examined which commerce channels dominated brands’ holiday sales plans in 2023 during a live discussion with Digiday editor-in-chief Jim Cooper, Glossy editor-in-chief Jill Manoff, Modern Retail editor-in-chief Cale Weissman and Digiday Media senior researcher Li Lu. We also highlighted the key marketing strategies within those channels and offered their performance predictions for the 2023 season. 

Insights and stats:

  • “Instagram is obviously an incredibly important marketing venue … but TikTok is becoming less seen as an experimental channel and as a platform that could potentially really rival Instagram by this time next year.” — Jim Cooper, Digiday editor-in-chief
  • TikTok and Instagram see a greater surge in importance to marketers than other social media platforms during the holiday season. The majority of respondents who use TikTok for marketing (61%) said that the platform grows in importance to their marketing plans during the holidays.
  • Throughout the rest of the year (and aside from Instagram), Facebook and Google are the major players, with 83% of survey respondents saying they’ve used Facebook as a marketing channel so far in 2023 and 72% saying they have used Google.

Watch the full holiday commerce discussion

See research from all Digiday Media Brands:

Digiday+ Research

Glossy+ Research

Modern Retail+ Research

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