ChatGPT and the future of political ads

With all the ChatGPT hype this week, it’s a good time to think about a prospective future for AI that has it producing deeply personalised information and communication.

For political ads, a tool like ChatGPT could write and design (or film or assemble) thousands of variations of political ads based on desired topic, emotional pitch, the right type of “ask” and so on (ChatGPT currently seems to have guardrails that would stop it doing this, but these tools won’t get less capable).

So far, the value of extreme personalisation, where it has to be mostly hand-cranked by humans and spreadsheets, has been mixed. Some studies of “microtargeting” have shown it to be highly effective, while others have found it totally ineffective. Either way, it takes a lot of work, meaning most campaigns have preferred much simpler strategies.

But when future AI/ML tools can do this personalisation work for campaigns, it’ll become cheap – so cheap it’ll end up being a standard feature within the ad buying interfaces of services where you can reach big audiences.

“Check this box to personalise your ads” will be the only thing a campaign needs to do to create all the microtargeting it needs, with each ad tailored to some prior knowledge about its recipient and their likely response to it. Campaigns wouldn’t have a lot of control or scrutiny over what the ads say, but if they work and help you win an election, will they really care?

What would technology like this mean for efforts (like ours) to promote advertising transparency and accountability in order to protect democracy?

We think it’d be ruinous. There are already far too many ads. When you have to build software to try and track what’s going on (as we already have to), you’ve broken the idea that democratic campaigning is a human system containing people who campaign and people who hold campaigns accountable.

With the cost of creating infinitely large, super-personalised campaigns likely to fall dramatically, we need to start talking about rules that would limit the number of ads a campaign can create and run, while balancing this with their fundamental right to make the arguments they choose to make.

None of this is very far from becoming reality. In fact, it’ll probably be tried out by the Biden or Trump 2024 campaigns.