Should tech firms rename 'A.I.' to make it sound less scary?

Microsoft's GM of global advertising discusses putting a face on A.I. and marketing it as approachable.

Microsoft’s marketing team once sat down and spoke about renaming the term ‘artificial intelligence’ to make it sound less scary for consumers.

Deana Singleton, Microsoft’s GM of global advertising, was discussing how brands wrestle to strike a balance between offering the same goods people rely on the company for, and pushing new technology.

"A.I. That term alone scares the crap out of people," she said during McCann Worldgroup’s "The Truth About Global Brands 2: Powered by the Streets" event in New York City on Thursday. "Not just consumers, but business people. So we spent months talking about whether we should rename it something else... We decided it probably wasn’t a very smart thing to do, because that’s what everyone else is calling it."

Singleton said Microsoft is hard at work trying to "democratize" A.I. The tech firm is attempting to bring it to live across all channels, whether that’s the stories it tells in PR, the things company leaders talk about at events or the way it shows up in advertising.

"We’re now trying to put a new face on it and make it approachable," she added. "It’s not a robot that’s going to take your job or babysit your child, so what is it? What we’ve learned is you can’t shy away from it. We’ve also learned that we cannot be the last to market it. It’s a balance for us. I feel like so far we’ve done a pretty good job, but it’s a long journey."

Singleton joined other marketing leaders on a panel to discuss new research by McCann Worldgroup’s Truth Central unit, which revealed that consumers want brands to serve their local culture and be a force for change in the world as distrust in global institutions rises.

The study, which surveyed around 24,000 people in 29 countries, found 72 percent of people believe that global institutions like the World Bank and the UN don’t understand the needs of their country -- and are generally more pessimistic and more distrustful of their own citizens.

Meanwhile, attitudes towards brands have not suffered from the same negativity affecting people’s overall views, and represent a counterbalance to political and institutional distrust.

McCann’s inaugural 2015 study showed that 82 percent of consumers on a global basis believed that global brands can play a powerful role for good in the world, which remained essentially the same (81 percent) in the 2018 study. They also maintain that global brands that contribute to their local culture and society are viewed with the same favorability.

At the same time, the conditions affecting brands have changed. A majority of consumers around the world (56 percent) say they now trust local brands over global brands -- up sharply from 43 percent in 2015. This presents brands with both a strategic challenge and a great opportunity to connect with consumers in a meaningful way.

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