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AI for impact: Future of Marketing Initiative celebrates seven years

Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative (FOMI) celebrates seven years with an event at Google in New York, with a focus on AI and purpose

As 2023 draws to a close we have been celebrating FOMI's seventh birthday. FOMI, the first of the School’s research initiatives where corporate partners support faculty research and impact, was launched by Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing and Deputy Dean, in November 2016 at his inaugural lecture. Since then, FOMI has grown to become a well-recognised and respected authority in the marketing and advertising industries.

Andrew Stephen with list of companies on screen

FOMI’s corporate partners are the who’s who of household names and industry-leading global companies – L’Oréal, Google, Meta, Kantar, Reckitt, WPP, BMC, Diageo, Unilever, JP Morgan, Moët Hennessy, Mars, Institute for Real Growth, and (last but not least) the United Nations.

FOMI marked its seven years with a special event on 30 October in New York, hosted by Google. This was the first time FOMI had run an event outside of Oxford. The event was aimed at engaging New York based executives from our corporate partners and alumni. The evening started with a brief overview of FOMI and its research achievements to date from Andrew Stephen, followed by two sessions showcasing two of FOMI’s key research themes:

  • New technologies in marketing
  • Marketing with purpose

New technologies in marketing

Panelists at FOMI 7 year event in New York

The first session was a panel discussion on the past, present, and future of AI in marketing. Moderated by Seth Rogin, Associate Fellow, the panel featured Ariane Pol, Global Head of Advertising Creative Research at Google and graduate of the Oxford Executive Diploma in AI for Business, Han Wen, Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at L’Oréal USA, Felipe Thomaz, FOMI’s Deputy Director and Associate Professor of Marketing, and Andrew Stephen.

The group talked about how the release of ChatGPT in late 2022 has been a tipping point in the public awareness of, and accessibility to AI tools, yet much of the value from AI in marketing and business is not new. They also shared some practical ideas on how businesses of all shapes and sizes can learn about AI, focusing on 'purposeful experimentation' that is driven by business objectives and 'problems to solve' rather than simply playing with AI for the sake of it.

Both Ariane and Han were clear that the existence of AI tools is not enough to drive marketing results. Because AI technology is evolving currently at a rapid pace, both leaders talked about the importance of creating a culture of innovation and experimentation that serves to chart the path of best use for brands in the context of their marketing goals. Han spoke of using AI not only to target and sell product at the bottom of the consumer funnel, but also to generate early curiosity and brand definition. She spoke of the transformative opportunity to use AI to generate initial awareness and demand for as-yet unknown or soon-to-launch products among consumers.

Ariane discussed the misperception that generative AI that is responsive to consumer engagement, could run the danger of creating visually similar ad creative for multiple brands. She expressed the opposite is much more likely, that the best brands are using generative AI to redefine and hone the way they are connecting with consumers by creating custom visuals and messaging as never before possible. She said that this is leading to a new generation of creative potential and that much of great art is often inspired by previous creations. As Seth put it, ‘it's as though the screen is a new canvas for creativity and code is the new paint.'

Marketing with purpose

The second session was a preview of findings from new research on how the C-suite can effectively shift to a multi-stakeholder approach to business, led by Marc de Swaan Arons, International Research Fellow, and co-founder of the Institute for Real Growth (IRG).

The research is a collaboration between IRG and FOMI and is based on hundreds of interviews with CEOs, CMOs, CFOs, COOs, board directors and other senior business leaders from around the world focusing on trying to understand, very practically, what it takes for companies to successfully shift to a model where they create value for all of their stakeholders – their investors, their employees, customers, communities, and so on.

Andrew Stephen with FOMI logo in background

Marc previewed the research findings and a new leadership framework developed based on this research, and shared marketing-specific implications and advice for CMOs. The research will be formally launched at an event at Oxford Saïd on 17 January 2024 where we look forward to sharing more details.