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How will deepfakes in influencer marketing affect brands?

Social media has definitely changed the ways we think about celebrity endorsement and the power of influencers for connecting with audiences. Influencer marketing is often an incredibly effective marketing strategy, earning up to $18 in earned media for every dollar spent. 

But the problem with both celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing is that they’re pretty costly and limited to a very specific message. But what if you could have a celebrity or influencer speak directly to each of your audience segments? It’s completely possible that through the power of deepfake technology, brands may soon be able to deliver hyper-targeted influencer messaging at a fraction of the cost.  

Deepfakes are probably here to stay

In May 2019, Samsung’s Russian artificial intelligence lab released a paper outlining new processes for deepfake technology that allow pretty realistic deepfake videos to be created using a just a handful of images. Until now, deepfake videos have required huge amounts of data, so the videos were mostly limited to celebrities, of whom there are ample numbers of free and readily available photos. And while many publications were quick to decry this new technology as “creepy,” others feel that these new deepfakes are just the natural evolution of technology that has existed for quite some time.

According to Bill Bill Bronske, senior solutions architect at Globant, we’re actually a bit more comfortable with deepfakes than we may realize:

“If you look at the history of video, especially the type of video that uses technology to manipulate images, they’re becoming more widely available to the general population. But these types of uses tools have been around for many years when we’ve used them for entertainment. For example, replacing the face of a stunt person with the face of an actor is fine for most audiences because it’s done under the guise of entertainment.”  

Bronske is right: while the average consumer might say deepfakes are creepy in theory, most don’t mind their favorite celebrities being used for advertising–fake or not. 

Deepfakes aren’t always a bad thing 

The best example of audiences widely embracing deepfake technology is a recent video made by a video startup called Synesthesia in partnership with Ridley Scott Associates for nonprofit Malaria No More. In the video, deepfake technology was used to help soccer star David Beckham speak nine languages for a campaign called Malaria Must Die. 

Audiences obviously didn’t mind the technology, as the video has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube. And marketers are catching on to the potential of deepfakes–Synesthesia has raised over $3.1 million since making the video, and other clients include the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and McCaan Worldgroup. 

Bronske believes the Beckham video is just the start in a revolution of sorts for celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing:

“If we look at the power of social influencers, we’ve seen that the power of celebrity can be huge for organizations and promoting products. It’s probably the most important way to promote social issues and activism in communities.”

In the video, Beckham speaks nine different languages; therefore the message is amplified ninefold, connecting with a variety of viewers in their native languages. Currently, influencer marketing is both expensive and not highly segmented. Messages are limited to single videos or social posts speaking to the entirety of a brand’s audience. 

But the power of deepfakes means reaching many different customers with highly targeted, perhaps even personalized at some point, messaging, which takes influencer marketing to a whole other level. 

Transparency will be the future

However, the reason deepfakes are so often described as “creepy” is the fact that, so often, they’re in the news for being used to make videos of subjects without consent. Who can forget the video of Nancy Pelosi slurring her words that so many on social media believed to be authentic? The future of policing deepfakes is murky, and many worry about the ways in which the technology might be misused. Bronske believes brands have an ethical responsibility — not just to the subjects of deepfake videos, but to audiences — to provide education and transparency around the videos:

“It’s important that consumers are educated,” Bronske says. “I think brands and organizations, and even celebrities, can lead the charge on education with more of an intentional integrity. The more transparent brands can be as deepfake concerns come out in the news, the much easier these concerns will be to combat.”  

And breaches of trust will ultimately hurt brands

As the 2020 elections approach, lawmakers have (perhaps rightly) begun to panic over the emergence of deepfake videos, such as the one that circulated featuring Pelosi. So much so that in June, lawmakers called a first-of-its-kind congressional hearing to try to decide how to best legislate these videos. And until that legislation comes to light, the ethics of deepfakes are still a bit murky. Tough Bronske says that brands who try and use deepfakes to dupe their own customers will, in the end, only wind up damaging their reputations and losing customers:

“Using watermarks or messaging that identifies synthetic video should be part of any brand’s journey of trust with consumers,” Bronske says. “That relationship is too valuable to intentionally damage.”

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