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Why half of Malaysian CEOs have yet to adopt Gen AI in their work

Why half of Malaysian CEOs have yet to adopt Gen AI in their work

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Generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) has truly shaken up how marketing is done with organisations already investing in Gen AI for marketing and dedicating a whopping 62% of their total marketing technology budget towards it.

However, these sentiments do not hold true in Malaysia with half of Malaysian CEOs admitting to not having adopted Gen AI across their companies in the past 12 months, according to PwC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey (Malaysia).

The study also found that almost half (43%) of Malaysia-based CEOs do not believe their organisations will be economically viable in a decade if they continue on their current path.

Workforce woes also continue in 2024 as 70% of Malaysia CEOs cite the lack of skills in their company’s workforce and two-thirds (64%) point to the lack of technological capabilities.

With the lack of AI uptake, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim recently said that AI is a field that must be mastered now and that this quick change in technology must be accepted. To do so, Malaysia must embrace it as fast as it can.

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If this application is not embraced and accepted now, we will be left behind, he added when he spoke at the University Putra Malaysia where he was officiating the 'AI for Rakyat' programme.

With the rise of campaigns using AI such as RHB Bank's AI-powered ads and CelcomDigi's Merdeka Day film, why are Malaysian companies reluctant to adopt AI?

The answer it would seem depends on how an ad connects with its audience, noting that the goal of any campaign is making an impact and engaging the consumer, said Christyna Fong, creative director at The Chariot Agency.

“AI has been a huge part of the creative process since it became accessible. We have been able to explore creative avenues faster, more extensively, and with less creative fatigue,” she said.

However, the final creative direction and decision making still relies on human intuition, she said, noting that ultimately, the business is and always will be about motivating people to do something and that requires an instinct AI can’t replicate.

The business is and always will be about motivating people to do something and that requires an instinct AI can’t replicate.

“I don't think audiences see it as 'wow, an AI ad' yet. It still is 'is it interesting and relevant to me',” Fong added. “Ultimately, we still need to give the ideas and insights from AI strategic direction and emotional nuances.”

Agreeing with her, Donevan Chew, chief creative officer for Havas Malaysia, noted that AI in campaigns must go beyond being a novelty to successfully capture audiences in Malaysia.

“The starting point remains the spark of creativity in the mind, not prompts,” he said. “AI in campaigns should go beyond being a quick alternative, merging with creative imagination to offer diverse opportunities for brands to connect meaningfully with consumers.”

At the heart of it, audiences seek meaningful connections and if an AI ad is able to deliver on this aspect, its use will be well welcomed by its audience, he said.

“A piece of advice for creatives out there: if you think, write and art-direct like machines, you’ll be replaced by one. But if you constantly sharpen your thinking and hone your craft, AI will make you a greater creative,” said Chew.

If you think, write and art-direct like machines, you’ll be replaced by one.

True enough, the current reluctance could also be due to fears that AI will replace jobs. In Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index titled ‘Will AI Fix Work?’, 58% of respondents from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region said that they fear that AI will replace their jobs.

This worry is not unfounded, as 85% of leaders polled in the report said that they expect their employees will need new skills in the AI era.

A lack of consumer demand?

Additionally, there might be a lack of consumer demand for AI-generated ads in Malaysia that is driving this reluctance.

Tjer, head of creative at FCB Shout explained that while the Malaysian audience does respond well to ads that incorporate AI, nothing lasts forever and marketers who jump on the bandwagon too late may not be able to reap the benefits of AI’s sense of novelty.

“It’s still early days, so it's definitely something very new and exciting in the eyes of the Malaysian audience. Once the novelty wears off, brands would need to be smarter and strategic in utilising AI for their campaigns,” Tjer added.

Agreeing with Tjer, Kunal Roy, chief executive office, Dentsu Creative Malaysia said that he believes that generative AI was over-hyped last year and that this year, it’ll be normalised as ‘one more tool’ for creativity to be explored and expressed.

He added that he does not think that the Malaysian audience has yet been deeply moved by any AI campaign in Malaysia. “After all, the idea is what makes the true difference, as was the case with Cadbury India’s ShahRukh Khan AI film,” Roy said.

When asked what he thinks the future will hold for AI campaigns, Roy said that he thinks the immediate future will see AI being explored more in visual and video formats.

“As our fluency and experimentation matures, Malaysia will create more immersive, engaging and meaningful brand experiences beyond communication,” he said.

Related articles:
What's keeping CEOs in Malaysia up at night?
Industry leads launch new Gen AI-driven consultancy in Malaysia

10 APAC trends marketers should know to stay ahead of the curve in 2024

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