man wearing a mirror mask
PHOTO: Alex Iby

Developing brand equity relies on building trust with people. How many people like (or don’t like) your brand relates so much with establishing trust, authenticity and connection — but what if these suddenly became more fluid? 

Video consumption is on the rise and emerging tech like the deep fake are causing us to second question the authenticity, the motives behind and the very truth of online content. On the flip side, these technologies are also being used to create new types of ethical synthetically-generated marketing media. A recent article on The Next Web suggests we shouldn’t focus only on the negative implications of the deep fake, but instead see the ways this tech can be used for good. 

Let’s start by digging into why there is cause for concern.

Why Deep Fakes Are Deeply Troubling

Since the early days of photography, fakes and modifications to imagery have been made. Manipulation of photos could skew the truth, make someone appear more beautiful, more menacing, or change the scene (or model’s body) entirely. Over time, people have adapted to better understand that what they see in photographs isn’t always 100% accurate or real. Yet this same skepticism isn’t as readily applied when it comes to video and audio. For some reason, people are more easily fooled. 

One dark path down the interweb rabbit hole will turn up a year's worth of reading on the topic of gaslighting — an emotionally manipulative tactic that some people use to deny facts and convince someone their reality is incorrect. Now people are able to use the deep fake algorithm to potentially create alternative realities to wage information warfare on public leaders, countries, individuals and even brands. “How,” you ask? 

Deep fake algorithms allow for the creation of video assets that look and feel authentic. Take for example the video by McCann Worldwide Europe

Further advances could allow anyone with access to a smartphone to create digital fakes in real-time, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s when. The truth matters, but what happens when you can no longer tell alternative facts from absolute fiction? 

It might even make you question if this kind of technology should be available at all. How would anyone go about restricting it? And would you want to, when it can also be used for good? 

Related Article: AI Frontiers: Fascinating, Fake and Terrifying Content

Potential Marketing Use-Cases for Deep Fake Technology

Let’s dig into some potential ideas for augmenting marketing video and audio content and things to consider if you choose to experiment with using deep fake technology. 

Idea 1: The Webinar Meets the Celeb-inar

Webinars are a handy marketing tool for sharing thought-leadership and best practices across industries, but sometimes, they can be a bit boring. Marketers could potentially spruce their webinars up to digitally alter a speaker's voice to that of a celebrity. Or, much like the way we apply filters in Snapchat, marketers could potentially apply filters to their voices to make them sound more pleasant or to sound like someone else entirely. 

The caveat here is, while it might be nice to sound more pleasant or impersonate a thought-leader already at your company, you risk losing your audience's trust. For thought-leaders who have built a following, think about how people might feel if a podcast hosted by their favorite marketing leader, was in fact, actually delivered by Greg, the intern. Disclosure of digital alterations will be key to maintaining trust. 

Idea 2: Video Personalization at Scale

Marketers creating video ads have the potential to create the same marketing message but personalize it by matching content to persona based on demographic and psychographic data. Think changing out the model or actor used to reflect similar characteristics to that of the intended audience. 

This one is a little creepy. But if you think about it, as consumers, we all have our opinions on whether we like Stephanie Courtney who plays Flo in the Progressive commercials or Dean Winters who plays Mayhem in the Allstate commercials. In the future, it could be possible for brands to A/B test different fictional characters using deep fake technology. 

Idea 3: Podcasts for Writers

Let’s face it, some of us are better at writing than we are at speaking. Writing a script and being able to bring it to life without having to actually say the words (and inevitably trip up on your words) could create an explosion in podcast content. A few companies already offer this kind of technology, leaving me to wonder, will there be a market for stock voices? And how long until we can't tell the difference between artificially created content and authentic content?  

Related Article: How to Have Ethical Oversight Without an Ethics Committee

Ethical Considerations

Before bringing deep fakes into your marketing mix, marketers should carefully review marketing ethics, such as the code of conduct outlined by AMA. Consider the ethical norms, but also the ethical value of honesty — “to strive to be truthful in all situations and at all times.” (That includes letting people know if you augment or synthetically-create marketing content.) 

AMA ethical norms, code of conduct

In addition, here are some other tips that can help you walk the line:

  • Commit to 100% transparency — Let people know if reality has been augmented in your content or if it’s synthetically-created. 
  • Check usage rights — Obtain consent to augment or adjust content from models, locations, etc.   

Some people are sure to exploit this technology for black-hat marketing. Deep fakes would fit right in with the shady tactics black-hat marketers use to increase reach, awareness and conversions, such as buying followers, finding loopholes in algorithms, keyword stuffing, buying backlinks and anything to try to trick or cheat the system. 

Basically, these are all the things you’re NOT supposed to do as an ethical marketer. Instead, be honest, be fair, and do no harm should you choose to employ deep fakes.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Brand Trust in the Age of Digital: Where Do We Go From Here? 

While the potential to use digitally-augmented and deep fake marketing content might be fun to daydream about, there is a dark side and it’s very real. I would say use technology wisely, but in the future, if we’re not careful, it might be using us. 

When it comes to using deep fake technology, marketers have a lot to think about.