Is it time for an AI declaration in HE marketing?

First, a confession.

I had been talking to a whole range of people across the sector about the Accord, sustainability, changes in leadership etc and two persistent black holes kept emerging:

  • Marketing, Advancement et al: Firstly, the whole marketing apparatus of the HE sector seemed to have lost its voice, kept frantic with internal demands but with little time for consideration of best practice and practical implications for policy. Who even asked the Accord’s four underserved demographics what it would take to get them to enrol in a tertiary course?
  • AI: is changing so fast, at a time of so many other perceived threats and changes, that many are only focusing on base-level compliance, despite other sectors experimenting and implementing far more extensively and intensively. There is lots of gee-whiz AI talk, and plenty of learning and teaching early adopters doing presentations, but not enough on whole-of-institution approaches and applications beyond the lecture theatre.

So we decided to launch HE FEST 24  – a conference focused on practical AI and Advancement, which will be hosted at UniSA’s campus in Adelaide on 11-13 September this year.

There has been lots of interest, particularly in our 10 Future Campus awards which will be announced at the event, but now time for the confession.

I decided as an experiment, to develop the conference logo on AI. Now ethically, this doesn’t appear to present any issues – it saved our frenetic, over-committed design and tech guru Amanda from having to develop it, and it also became a useful experiment – documenting the challenges and opportunities in development and looking at ways to understand the effectiveness of the outcome.

We have been using AI quite a lot over the past year, but so far only as a learning tool – not to deliver actual work. But at present that depends on an honesty system – l ike anyone working on higher education marketing campaigns, there is nothing I can see to prevent anyone involved in HE marketing from using AI all the time to deliver marketing campaigns, social posts, logos and the like, so long as they are not detected. There is no AI plagiarism software on the materials we deliver – or for that matter on the articles in Future Campus.

We don’t do that for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have the conceit to believe that while the capabilities of AI are amazing, the capacity of generic outputs delivered by AI to be as good as the ones I create does not yet exist. I can’t train a tool with 20 years of market research and marketing experience, in part because I only consciously remember all the influences that shape why and how I create content when I am asked to explain or justify it. AI can’t understand the sheer excitement that prospective students see when I talk about some courses or potential education experiences versus their weariness when they discuss others. Secondly, we place a high priority on being ethical and transparent and practice that in how we run our company – doing a whole range of pro bono work for free, billing transparently etc. Thirdly, it seems a big risk. If we used AI to create and clients found out, they would feel ripped off, we would lose kudos and we might be replaced by another agency that hasn’t been caught out. So we run AI programs to see what is possible and sometimes to compare our work with the collective wisdom of the internet spat out through a gen AI machine, but we still do all our own work.

But back to the confession. I created the HE FEST logo using AI as conscious experiment. It was the first time that I had generated something that I thought would work. We had to fix some parts in photoshop, but it seemed to fit the purpose. As more AI tools are developed, and we learn more about how to tailor them there will be other occasions when we might actually be able to deliver something better by using AI. In fact we may, sooner or later, be doing universities a disservice if we don’t use it.

Which is where we get to the main point. There is no code requiring disclosure of when AI is used in tertiary marketing and communications. Should there be?

This will be one of the many topics we cover at HE FEST, but in the meantime, we have placed a disclaimer on the conference website – and we will continue to look at experimenting and documenting our AI marketing journey,  to share along the way.

At the moment, AI-generated material is the exception, so we have chosen to tag that – but if using AI becomes the rule, do we instead need a HC (Human generated Content) tag, so that we can celebrate and trust the content from human brains?

And should we ask all Future Campus writers to sign an ‘own work’ guarantee to improve our chances of not boring you – or even worse misinforming you with AI generated content? We are 100% human written and intend to stay that way, unless otherwise labelled, but we have to nut out how to ensure that remains our approach. Let us know your thoughts – drop me a line at



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