3D-Billboards, TikTok, and the Metaverse have opened a whole new window of opportunities and ways brands can target consumers. Over the past several years, the social media landscape has witnessed the rise of “synthetic media” (aka media not made entirely by humans). Between AI-influencers, deepfakes, and GPT-3 technology, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to differentiate between human and computer-generated content.

With the rise of this new media comes a slew of questions for marketers. How and when should you use synthetic media? In what ways can it backfire? This technology has advanced so rapidly, legislation is having a hard time keeping up. Therefore, marketers should tread this new and still uncharted territory lightly. Synthetic media is a powerful tool to be handled delicately and strategically, but when done right, can create impactful campaigns. Here is a guide for marketers who are looking to explore synthetic media and a few things to keep in mind:

The pros and cons of synthetic media

One benefit of synthetic media is it allows a higher content output volume. There is no doubt computers can think more quickly than the human brain, with the ability to generate text within seconds, identify patterns, and overcome obstacles like writer’s block or eliminate human error. Synthetic media can deliver ultra-targeted content designed to be more algorithmically engaging. Content goes viral on social media due to the algorithm, and when a post receives tons of engagement, it’s more likely to be seen by more people.

With the rise in demand for digital assets like NFTS, apps like Dream allow users to provide brief descriptions for a prompt, which then is generated into “AI-powered paintings.” These digitised artworks are entirely machine-created and are produced within seconds based on millions of reference inputs, without hours of editing and drawing content. A robot named Sophia sold an NFT last year for $688,888, showing consumers’ fascination for content curated by robots.

However, on-demand content doesn’t necessarily equal better value. Synthetic media also has some dangers that marketers must be mindful of. Celebrities like Tom Cruise have fallen victim to deepfake impersonations, fooling millions of TikTokers into thinking the actor finally joined the app. Turns out, it was just technology at work. While this use of synthetic media gave the internet a chuckle, more nefarious instances have come to light. One college professor discovered a video of himself that he hadn’t created endorsing a stock-trading algorithm for an investment fund. When using deepfake technology, marketers must avoid using real human faces without their consent to avoid landing in legal hot water.

Know when to stay human

While computers might be able to act more quickly than the human brain, they lack the emotion and empathy that is often required behind powerful creative campaigns. Beyond impersonating celebrities, there are times that using deepfake technology can be done tastefully.

In 2021, H&M named Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams as their Global Sustainability Ambassador. H&M created Maisie’s digital-twin, an AI look-alike starring in a commercial about looping fabrics and sustainability. While this advertisement received some criticism for “greenwashing”, it’s a great example of how brands can use celebrities in futuristic-type ads.

When Siri became the world’s personal assistant in 2011, we learned how powerful AI technology was. Since then, brands across the globe have integrated AI as a standard practice in their business efforts. In 2020, The Guardian published an opinion piece written entirely by GPT-3 technology.

Some brands are even utilising AI influencers who have millions of followers. Samsung partnered with virtual influencer Lil Miquela in 2019 to essentially remind people that robots can do anything they put their fictitious minds to. An example like this is another powerful method to target consumers in a way to show that “the future is now.” Advances in technology offer exciting new techniques to reach new audiences, but they should never be used as substitutions for humanity.

Moral and ethical obligations to consumers

Assessing reference data like search history, previous purchases, conversations, and social media activity, deep learning systems to better target consumers might sound like a great idea for marketers, but is it morally or ethically correct? Generally, it’s best practice to avoid deceiving consumers. Marketers should always account for the impacts these technologies can have on their customers.

For years, studies have shown the negative impacts social media can have on consumers’ mental and physical health. Rather than using synthetic media to achieve unrealistic beauty standards through using deepfake technology, marketers must use synthetic media in a way that prioritises consumer mental health.

As with all communications efforts, transparency is key. Synthetic media, artificial intelligence, and deep learning technology are extremely powerful tools that have the ability to change the world but must be used mindfully and at the discretion of brands. Sometimes, simply providing a disclaimer clearly stating that a post contains deepfake technology or a virtual influencer can make all the difference to consumers. As marketers and advertising professionals, it’s beneficial to consult with focus groups ahead of releasing groundbreaking creative activations at scale to ensure consumers understand that the content is synthetic media.

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