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Is advertising's very strange future real?

At CES2020 a strange future for advertising was illustrated by a company that creates people who are not real. Rosebud.ai, which makes generative images of models that can be easily changed in terms of race and hair colour, along with global cosmetics giant L’Oréal, discussed how artificial intelligence could be used to create photo shoots that don’t need models. This idea that could have a huge impact in terms of the costs of talent and production, and how audiences feel and react to fake advertising content. 

I was impressed by the technology. The realistic nature of the avatars made them hard to distinguish from the real thing. Technology at this level could totally change the way models and celebrities appear in advertising and the way contracts and distribution are negotiated.

Models could appear in many places at the same time, licensing their images and increasing the amount of work they can do. Advertisers could pay for images of models instead of flying them around the world along with an entire photoshoot crew, at the same time trimming negative impacts on the environment. 

Already there are working virtual avatars which appear on the cover of international fashion magazines. Models like Shudu and Noonoouri work with brands including Ellesse, Balmain and Swarovski and even make appearances via 5G networks at glittering events like the BAFTAs. 

The appearance of virtual avatars is not new. Back in 2007, a pop-singing avatar called Hatsune Miku sold audio software but also went on to sell tickets to live concerts where she appeared as a hologram. Today, Lil Miquela and her cohorts from the Brud agency appear to wear clothing designed by Burberry, highlighting the brand’s latest trends for hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram who knowingly follow the characters’ interpersonal relationships like a soap opera. 

AI is already having a significant influence in the way that television works today. There’s more and more opportunities for addressable advertising, the technology which can help advertisers develop tailored campaigns to suit different audiences globally, at lower costs.

However, once the curiosity has calmed down, the audience taste for the virtual needs to be properly tested. Just as mascara adverts were slapped with a warning for literally enhancing possible effects in their images with false eyelashes, the use of the virtual needs to be clearly announced. Nobody likes to feel tricked, and not communicating with audiences about the use of virtual people could see brands losing loyal customers who no longer trust what they are being shown. 

The technology and artistry behind these digital people comes to the fore during a time where consumers are unsettled by virtual newsreaders and of course the much-covered DeepFakes, the synthetic media where people are face-swapped and so far, used for nefarious reasons from revenge porn to political hoaxes. CES showcased a new innovation in identifying deepfake videos, Deeptrace, with its mission to restore trust in what we see through verification for synthetic video. 

While academics and the industry work on methods of identifying fake video material, governments too have expressed concern about the possible uses and misuse of the synthetic. Innovation can be hard to legislate without stifling future growth and possibilities. This is why an industry framework, safeguarding leading-edge development and creative innovation needs to be discussed in terms of regulation and audience communication. 

Rosebud.ai’s technology has the power to change the advertising world, but it is the advertisers who need to be at the table to help shape a safe and helpful world with that technology. 

Stéphane Coruble is chief executive officer of RTL AdConnect.

 

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