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IBM is studying “unwanted bias” in targeted advertising

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IBM—creator of Watson and the rumored inspiration behind the killer robot from 2001: A Space Odyssey—is creating an artificial intelligence tool that it says will help marketers better recognize and reduce bias in targeted advertising.

The company seeks to audit brand campaigns after they’ve run to see which audiences were missed, and whether marketing algorithms over-indexed for a specific group or demographic.

  • It has already signed up The Ad Council to audit the nonprofit’s historic “It’s Up To You” vaccine PSA effort.
  • “The application of AI to advertising has rapidly increased, so we just feel it's a space we should investigate and find those [bias] patterns where they exist. And if we can do something to better that, it’s a worthy task,” Robert Redmond, IBM’s head of AI advertising product design, told Marketing Brew.

Step back: Marketers obviously have an intentional bias for specific demographics—makeup companies largely target women, for example—but when ad tech mechanisms optimize for performance, some audiences might get lost in the mix. Think serving classified ads for cashier positions to mostly women, or primarily showing taxi jobs to Black people.

Although IBM’s initiative might read like an altruistic investment, there’s an efficiency play here for marketers, Redmond told us. Campaigns that are more efficient against bias will reach more relevant audiences, the thinking goes.

“There's a whole group of people who are just secluded because the campaign itself is optimizing them out,” said Redmond. Product plans are still in development, Redmond noted, but presumably IBM could offer the anti-bias tech to media agencies or brands.—RB

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.