Researchers: Deepfakes will be in mainstream advertising in a decade

Synthetic advertising is well on its way, but will consumers be ok with these artificial yet real representations of reality?

Deepfakes will be widely used in mainstream media and advertising within a decade and could provide the next step up in personalised advertising, leading university researchers believe. If brands get it right.

The predictions form part of new research into ways deepfakes are likely to be used by companies and marketers. The resulting paper, Preparing for an Era of Deepfakes and AI-Generated Ads: A Framework for Understanding Responses to Manipulated Advertising, was produced by four professors from the University of San Diego, Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, University of Victoria in British Columbia, and King’s College London.

To date, the researchers noted content produced by synthetic methods is mostly user-generated, commonly by technologists looking to showcase their abilities with artificial intelligence (AI). In addition, much of what’s out there so far looks obviously fake. Rather than convince or trick consumers of the authenticity of what’s created, creators are more likely to be aiming for humour and demonstration of deepfake technology. 

Yet there’s no doubt to the researchers, advertisers will eventually be capable of producing deepfakes indistinguishable from the real thing, including manifestations in advertising. And that’s both a good and bad thing.

“Imagine ads that skip the model entirely and show you wearing the clothes – something similar to the futuristic ads in the 2002 film, Minority Report,” University of San Diego researcher in digital innovations in marketing and advertising, Associate Professor Colin Campbell, said.

“It’s a concept that may prove too intimidating for many consumers. There is an abundance of research that shows greater positive effects when consumers see people like them in ads. Brands could tailor ads by serving up a deepfake model matching your exact ethnicity, height, wearing clothes similar to what you’ve purchased previously or liked online, standing on a street near your home or workplace using data extracted from social media, retail sensors or loyalty programs.

“These personalised ads could lead to more sales and improved reputation for brands, so long as they don’t cross over into hyper customer surveillance – leading to privacy concerns and feelings of vulnerability from consumers.”

The emerging practice of what the researchers call “synthetic advertising”, the most sophisticated form of ad manipulation so far, relies on various AI techniques, such as deepfakes and generative adversarial networks (GANs). These use data to automatically create content that depicts an artificial version of reality.

According to 2020 figures from Deeptrace’s The State of Deepfakes report, the number of deepfake videos online had reached nearly 15,000, up nearly 100 per cent compared to 2018 figures. Deepfake creation technologies and tools are being helped through commoditisation thanks to a growing number of communities, computer apps and services.

And as interest and use proliferates, concerns are growing around how the technology is employed. Much media attention surrounding the negative use of deepfakes to date has focused on their potential to undermine democratic processes and enhance cyberattacks such as social engineering and fraud against individuals and businesses. But there are also a host of more constructive use cases for deepfakes emerging.

Read more: Explainer: What are deepfakes?

Creative business, Metaphysic, is developing artificial intelligence for hyper real virtual experiences in the metaverse. In a recent interview with CMO, its CEO and co-founder, Tom Graham, cited a lot more to come with deepfakes.

“Many people think of deepfakes as just face swapping, but it is also used to describe a wide range of AI created media that I call ‘synthetic content’,” he explained. “Even at this nascent stage, the technology is being used in many fascinating ways, from realistically cloning voices of people who have lost the ability to speak and deageing celebrities, to generating entirely new content.”

Swinburne University of Technology researcher in innovations in retail and social media and fellow research author, Professor Sean Sands, said it’s likely deepfakes will be widely used in mainstream media within a decade.

“Marketers will strive to create ‘authentically human’ deepfakes to seem ‘real’. But we also have research that suggests consumers can be more forgiving of obviously virtual influencers,” he continued. “Some businesses may strive to make the fact a deepfake is fake known, so their consumers may be more forgiving of their transgressions.”

The research authors said a research agenda is being developed focusing on three manipulated advertising areas: Ad falsity, consumer response, and originality.

Check out CMO’s in-depth feature on deepfakes in the marketing playbook in the digital edition of CMO magazine, available here.


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