Every year, The PPAI Expo ushers in the future of the promotional products universe. In 2024, the future is accelerating faster than ever before.

That was the message from keynote speaker Anat Baron to a packed ballroom of promo pros at Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Monday.

Her remarks kicked off The PPAI Expo Conference’s education sessions with ideas and insights on leveraging AI, preparing for the constant pace of disruption it is ushering in, and how promo companies are uniquely positioned to evolve alongside technology.

The former general manager and chief marketing officer of alcohol brand Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which would go on to disrupt the alcohol industry with the introduction of hard seltzer brand White Claw, Baron spoke of the essential role branded merchandise played in helping to establish the company’s essence and market reputation.

“There was so much that we did because people had never heard of us,” she said of the promotional product approach at Mike’s. “We met the customer where they were. We weren’t like the big guys. We were fun, we were creative, and all the products we created did that for us.”

The world has changed much since Baron went full-time as a keynote speaker with a specialty in futurism. And the rate at which it changed will only grow exponentially, she said.

While that gives many people reservations – often, the fear that artificial intelligence will take their jobs or replace their utility in the economy – Baron advised the audience to be excited about its potential rather than fear AI.

“The future is less about job loss due to automation, and more about ways that us humans can work with machines so that we have more time to use our own intelligence,” she said.

To capitalize on its potential in what Baron sees as only the latest industrial revolution, market professionals need to use AI to maximize all those things that make them uniquely human.

The traits a machine will never possess without a human mind to guide it, Baron says, include curiosity, creativity, compassion, collaboration and connection.

  • Many of these form the basis of the industry’s current strengths, according the market’s responses in some of the latest PPAI research.
  • The same study, Outlook 2024, projected rapid technological change as both an opportunity and a potential threat to promo going forward.

“I really ask each and every one of you to embrace this brave new world,” Baron said. “We’re still in a period of great and profound uncertainty and change. But I continue to be super optimistic. I still believe in our joint humanity, and I’m excited about the future.”