From Zuckerberg to JFK, how advertisers are deploying deepfakes

The Drum 12 Jun 2019 01:30

The emergence of ‘deepfake’ video, audio and imagery is threatening to undermine our sense of a shared reality. But to what extent are advertisers and creatives colluding in this, and how transparent should they be when releasing synthetic work?

In the winter of 2017, Alan Kelly had an idea. The executive creative director of Dublin’s Rothco was watching documentaries on Netflix about the assassination of John F Kennedy (still a revered figure in Ireland, thanks, in part, to his ancestry) when he learned how, on that fateful day, the president had been on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart to deliver a speech.

“I’d never heard of it, or even knew he was going there to give a speech,” Kelly says. “I did a quick Google search to see if I could find the copy and it was easy to track down. Then it was like... what if? What if there was technology available that could recreate it?”

Kelly spoke to his producer the next day and the two sought out the expertise of CereProc, a text-to-speech company known for storing the voices and phraseology of motor neurone disease patients in Scotland. The Times of London, which was launching its print edition in Ireland around the same time, then commissioned the project as a stake in the ground for its informed, in-depth and global positioning.

Dior revived Marilyn Monroe and a host of other dead starlets for its 2011 J’Adore commercial, while Galaxy (Dove in the US and some other markets) gave Audrey Hepburn the same treatment in 2013. Most famously, Forrest Gump’s producers had ‘John Lennon’ speaking directly to Tom Hanks 18 years after the singer’s death.

Unsurprisingly, then, Catherine Newman – the chief marketing officer behind The Times’ ‘JFK Unsilenced’ – ardently puts distance between the campaign and the more nebulous deepfaked videos slowly filtering through the internet.

The sheer effort that went into the 22-minute sound file is proof that deepfakery is not yet as problematic for democracy as the recent scourge of fake news.

““In the examples online, a considerable amount of time, money, energy and technical equipment is evident, meaning that most of the debate around deepfakes is a couple of years down the road. Current methods of distributing fake news tend to still involve Photoshop or falsified documents.”

“Deepfakes could shatter our previous notion of a shared reality,” he explains. “You see a video and believe it to be some objective window into a truth. So, the bigger concern is that it’s going to allow politicians specifically to deny authentic videos by saying ‘it’s clearly a deepfake’.”

Iain Tate, who produced a deepfake-inspired film for the artist Gillian Wearing at Wieden+Kennedy London, admits that anything involving emerging technology makes him “feel a bit uncomfortable”, explaining that “the potential for ‘corruption’ of deepfakes just happens to be a bit more obvious and media-friendly – because it’s so visual – than other technology”.

“Personally, I hope that people who see the piece start to query the images and personalities they’re exposed to through their algorithmically filtered feeds.”

“We fully understand the possible ramifications and applications of this technology when it comes to fake news or impacting elections or, of course, involuntary porn,” says Roger Baran, a creative director at GS&P.

“This application of AI doesn’t have to be used only for shady and scary ends. It could give us magical experiences and open new opportunities for culture, entertainment and education.”

“The general public strongly desires to know if what they are interacting with is real,” he says. “That doesn’t mean people don’t want synthetic media, it just means that blurring the line between real and synthetic without transparency is disrespectful. “The advertising industry can and should take a stance and clearly distinguish between the two.”

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The TimesAlan KellyPolgarRothcoIreland
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