The AI dilemma: Profits or principles?

November 6, 2023

Jayde Robertson

Well, folks, here we are in the ever-evolving realm of education marketing, facing the all-too-familiar AI dilemma. Marketing has been on quite the joyride for years. We've seen tech booms, privacy laws, economic roller coasters, and a pandemic. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, you choose.) The ride isn't over.

According to the fine folks over at Forbes, the marketing landscape is about to get another facelift, and this time, AI and machine learning (ML) are the headliners. These technologies are here to make marketing magic, but as they say, with great power comes great responsibility (and ethical dilemmas).

Consumers have taken the reins. They're the ones driving the car now. They dictate how they interact with brands, and they're all about the experience. They want relevance, convenience, memorable moments, and consistency wherever they engage with a brand. Trust and transparency? Those are non-negotiable, with a side of consent when sharing personal info.

We're moving into a world of deep context. It's not just about basic demographics or what people did last Tuesday. We're talking about an expansive universe where data is the new currency. Building trust is all about creating experiences that anticipate and meet the needs of customers.

And here's the catch: it's a tightrope walk. You've got these super-smart AI and ML tools on one side, promising to work marketing miracles, and on the other, you've got ethics and trust. So, you see, it's not just about raking in the cash; it's about crossing the ethical maze AI lays down in the world of marketing.

The rise of AI in marketing

We live in a world increasingly run by technology. The rise of AI in marketing is much like an awkward encounter with an ex. It’s hard to ignore. 

It's not just something we used to see in sci-fi movies; it's become an everyday marvel, right under our noses. This isn't some overnight success story; it's been a long time coming. The journey to AI has been a bit like watching a flower bloom over decades, with every petal representing a technological breakthrough.

Marketers use AI for a multitude of reasons - but generally speaking, it's used to enhance productivity, and efficiency - and of course, making our lives easier. In fact, according to Web FX, as of 2023 more than 80% of marketers worldwide integrate some form of AI into their online marketing activities.

Promise - or peril?

AI is a double-edged sword. It promises wonders – higher engagement, increased conversions, and a smoother customer journey. Naturally, and unsurprisingly, there's a dark side. AI has kinda established itself as the magic genie. It grants wishes - but - it needs to know you first. Basically, it's not that great at respecting boundaries. It delves deep into your personal data, sometimes even without your consent.

There's the ethical conundrum. AI doesn't always know the fine line between personalized marketing and creepy stalker-like advertising. It can sometimes feel like you're under surveillance when you see ads that reflect your most private desires. You searched for yoga mats once, and suddenly, yoga retreats and kale smoothies are all over your screen. Talk about oversharing. But it's not just ads - it's predictive writing, language models - and algorithms too. 

Here’s why marketers should be wary of the promise of AI

Alright, let's talk turkey here. AI in marketing is like adding nitrous to your car's engine. It's a game-changer. But, as with any shiny new toy, there's a learning curve. And, trust me, we've got to keep our eyes wide open to the potential pitfalls.

Some marketers are so hyped about the power of AI that they've got their blinders on. They're chasing the benefits without giving much thought to the potential risks. It's like racing ahead at full throttle without looking at the road signs. What happens? You might just take a wrong turn. 

We’ve already seen cases where AI is used to create fake online reviews or social media posts. In 2019, researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California, San Diego, created an AI system capable of generating fake Yelp reviews that were almost impossible to distinguish from real reviews. Why does this matter? Because fake reviews can play tricks on consumers. They can lead folks down the garden path and make them buy things based on a pack of lies. And that, my friends, isn't the kind of marketing we want.

It’s just… unethical. 

The role of ethics

You see, AI in marketing isn't just about fancy algorithms and data crunching. It's about understanding human behavior, predicting consumer actions, and delivering tailor-made content. That's some powerful stuff right there. But, as Uncle Ben wisely said, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Here's the deal: Marketers need to be more aware than ever of the potential ethical implications of using AI. Why? Because while AI can be a game-changer, it's not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal. 

The ethical jigsaw begins with data privacy. We're in an era where people's data is more valuable than ever, and respecting that privacy is non-negotiable. When marketers get too cozy with AI and neglect these privacy concerns, we're walking on a thin ethical line.

Then there's the issue of transparency. We've all seen those ads that seem almost psychic - like they're reading our minds. AI can make marketing super personalized, but it shouldn't be a magician's trick. Consumers deserve to know how we use their data, and they should have a say in it. Transparency is a big piece of the ethical puzzle.

And let's not forget bias. AI is only as good as the data it's trained on. If that data is biased, well, AI can perpetuate that bias. And in marketing, bias can mean excluding certain groups, and that's just plain wrong.

Here’s a quick checklist you can use to determine if you are using AI ethically, and responsibly. 

  • Is the purpose of AI use in education marketing clear, and does it align with educational values and goals?
  • Are we collecting, storing, and processing data responsibly and with a focus on data privacy and consent?
  • Are we transparent about our data practices to all stakeholders?
  • Are we taking measures to prevent AI from reinforcing biases in educational content and interactions?
  • Are we actively promoting diversity and inclusivity in our AI algorithms?
  • Do we disclose the use of AI in educational processes to all involved parties?
  • Do we provide explanations for AI-driven decisions when required?
  • Do we have procedures in place for correcting AI errors and addressing unintended outcomes?
  • Have we taken steps to mitigate potential bias in AI algorithms that might disadvantage specific groups?
  • Is our AI usage consistent with the values, mission, and vision of our educational institution or marketing approach?

So, the bottom line is this: Marketers need to be considerate and wary of the potential ethical implications of using AI. We've got to play fair and square in this digital sandbox. AI is a tool, a powerful one, and how we use it matters. 

It's not just about selling products or services; it's about doing it ethically, transparently, and with respect for our customers. Because, in the end, that's the only way we'll build trust and long-lasting relationships.

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