2024 Marketing Trends: AI innovations, Influencers, and finding your Sustainability Narrative

There’s more to marketing than noticing the latest shiny AI objects, contemplating the quasi-authenticity of influencers, and making sense of your brand’s sustainability story. But those three topics are as top of mind as any in the early weeks of 2024, so let’s shine a light on their place in the marketing landscape.

AI did not write this blog post. We promise.

Writing about AI is like trying to pin the tail on a very speedy donkey. If you turn your back for even a moment, it’s not going to be in the same place when you look back. 

Even so, engaging with AI feels like something of a magic trick. Conjuring an image seemingly out of nowhere, or asking Chat GPT to brainstorm with you can be surprising and often delightful, even if we’re not sure how it’s done and a little suspicious of its motives.

The seeming magic of AI image generation is something Coca-Cola tapped into, first with the launch of their Create Real Magic site, an AI sandbox allowing fans to create Coke-centric images (most recently holiday cards) utilizing Coke’s distinctive brand assets, like the famous contour bottle.

Meanwhile, Coke’s limited edition Y3000 flavor invites you to imagine your surroundings in the year 3000. Take a mobile photo via the Y3000 cam and you’re “co-creating” with Y3000, which will generate an AI image that’s heavy on the Y3000 aesthetic based on your input. Think a step beyond Snapchat’s familiar branded lenses and you’re on the right track.

Personalization is often cited as something that brands need to lean into. If you have deep pockets like Coke, AI can do a lot of the heavy lifting. For many brands, however, AI’s appeal may well be more of a cost-cutting exercise. 

There’s no shortage of start-ups offering AI shortcuts to generating product shots. But we’re seeing pushback from fandoms that view AI as an existential threat to working artists, as gaming companies Wizards of the Coast and Wacom recently found out. Social media can be thirsty for affordably-produced content. But it’s also a place where fans can, and often do, take brands to task. Not every consumer cares, but those that do, care a lot.

There’s a similar temptation to have AI generate infinite variations on social media copy. But our suspicion remains that for now, AI is more of a tool to empower strategic social media managers than a replacement for them.

While lacking the obvious excitement of clever creative utilizations, AI presents significant UX opportunities for brands with deep reservoirs of custom data. For example, beyond serving up product recommendations, Amazon is using AI to aggregate and summarize customer reviews, providing mobile users with quicker snapshots of customer sentiments.

Whether delivering content that’s better optimized, or giving customers the tools to customize their own experiences, AI will play a significant role in the much-talked-about personalization of marketing.

Influencers keeping it real. Or at least realer. 

Even though “AI is coming for the influencers,” as reported in New York Magazine, the persuasive power of social media influencers is fueled by a desire for some form of authenticity and by the parasocial relationships followers form with their aspirational online besties. 

Ironically, many influencers have peddled a kind of perceived-as-perfect lifestyle that is all too pervasive on social media. But in 2024 we may see a shift to much more relaxed influencer content (both organically and when pitching for brands). 

AI can create aspirational content reflecting unattainable lifestyles. But we’re not yet at a point where it feels real in the way your favorite TikToker or YouTuber does. 

Can AI do emotional vulnerability or self-deprecation?  Eventually, sure. But for now, brands looking for influencer content should view angst, self-doubt, and other messy human emotions as a desirable part of the authenticity package.

It’s also ironic that TikTok, the platform where conventional marketing has taken a backseat to native content (“don’t make ads, make TikToks,” they told us) has become overrun by native TikTok Shop ads, annoying many users in the process. 

Will TikTok deliver an algorithmic course correction in 2024? We hope so, but the platform is set to take a bigger cut from Shop transactions, in the quest to boost their annual revenue.

We should also note that while real-life influencers can provide credibility and authenticity for brands, guys (we’re presuming it’s guys) are willing to throw money at AI girlfriends, where authenticity presumably takes a backseat to, well, other stuff. 

Sustainability stories, and how you frame them

When asked, the majority of consumers will tell you that they pay attention to things like sustainable packaging. That may be because they think it’s what they’re supposed to say when asked. Nonetheless, sustainability is something brands ignore at their peril in the current climate (pun intended). In that light, brands may wish to explore their own sustainability narrative. That may mean recognizing where past actions could be rectified. 

Like many brands, Miller Brewing released a sustainability report in 2023, detailing efforts in waste reduction, energy efficiency, and recycling. All positive steps, though it makes for rather dry reading. 

More creatively, they signaled the evolution of the Miller Lite brand by acknowledging that beer advertising historically depicted women in sexist ways and taking steps to change that narrative. 

Their  “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T” campaign with comedian Ilana Glazer had Miller Lite disposing of old, objectifying ads by turning them into fertilizer, to be distributed to female hops farmers. The hops grown from the fertilizer will be donated to over 200 female brewers, ultimately making about 330,000 beers.

The sustainability report exists, but it’s something you’d probably have to seek out. Meanwhile, their more creative efforts caught the attention of People, one of the most mainstream publications out there. 

Unfortunately, mainstream beer marketing became something of a hot-button culture war topic this past year, with some outlets describing it as a “woke” commercial. 

As we move into an election cycle, brands make progressive waves at their peril, but we can’t help but admire the thinking behind the reframe.

Elsewhere, outdoor apparel brand Patagonia makes memorable sustainability statements, such as encouraging consumers to “buy less, demand more”. Sustainability has been part of Patagonia’s DNA since day one, as their first catalog, published in 1972, makes clear. 

Other brands may need to dig deeper, engage in some self-reflection, address past wrongs, or think differently about how their product relates to the problem at hand. 

In that regard, Hellman’s tackling the food waste in your fridge reframes mayonnaise as a way to “make taste, not waste”. If you can encourage people to waste less by using more of your product, that’s a marketing win/win.