by Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) Still struggling to come to terms with the impact of martech, marketers in the fashion industry have a new challenge on their hands. Computer-aided technology (CAT) is hitting the ramp. And it presents brand managers with an interesting dilemma.
Last month, French luxury brand house Balmain unveiled the three new faces of its autumn campaign — Shudu, Margot and Zhi. They quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, even attracting comments from the likes of Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and Alicia Keys.
The quirk with this campaign is that all three are computer-generated models. Shudu, the more famous of the trio, is already being touted as the world’s first digi-supermodel. Which probably also qualifies her the first true IT girl.
On the face of it, CGI in the fashion industry makes sense. For all the virtues of working with human models, photographing them is a challenge. Aside from the politics of whether a model is too fat or too thin, shoots come at a price. Who can forget Linda Evangelista’s famous comment that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than US$10 000 a day? Traditional fashion advertising also takes time — a commodity that few marketers have. CGI allows advertisers to adhere to today’s maxim that content should be produced at the speed of culture. In other words, knock it out quick and cheap.
While it’s not new in advertising — the CGI ad flighted back in 1984 when the Canned Food Information Council released a Super Bowl spot with a robot espousing the virtues of tinned beans and it’s subsequently been used to great effect in the auto sector — creating a fake human is something of a departure.
While many in the rag trade laud the development, others have got their knickers in a knot over ethics of it all. But, while they may rail over concerns about job losses, my worry is about influence.
It’s the fashion and media industry, after all, that gave us influencers. And for all Kim Kardashian’s lack of authenticity, there’s an element of harmlessness to her actions — most of us know that most of the time she’s faking her admiration for the latest brand she’s plugging. But if the influencer now becomes an anonymous (and non-disclosed) computer-generated bot, how are we to tell what’s real and what’s not? And that’s precisely what happened when the Balmain Three were ascribed real human-like identities.
The prospect will become even more frightening when the inevitable happens and Shudu or others of her ilk are given artificial intelligence (AI) and the power to mine our social media and search history to pitch us products in real time.
Is Cameron-James Wilson, Shudu’s creator, a modern-day Victor Frankenstein? While the creature he’s manufactured may be far from grotesque, I fear that it may just become all the fashion.
Finally, a rather more-shocking and -insidious use of the transformative powers of tech is making headlines, thanks to the crusading power of 24-year-old, Noelle Martin, the victim of something called the deepfake.
Deepfakes entered the news earlier in the year, when the internet became flooded with porn movies featuring high-profile female celebs. Sadly, these weren’t any common or garden Paris Hilton-esque tapes, which silly celebs were careless enough to have had stolen from their hacked iCloud accounts. They were movies in which famous faces were engineered onto more-regular adult performers. And so good is the tech that it’s almost impossible to spot that it’s not real.
While the affected celebs probably didn’t like the videos, they at least had the credibility and profile to deny their involvement and the legal means to have them pulled down. But Martin is a regular person, like you and I, and the internet is flooded with compromising movies of pornstars wearing her face. Her harrowing TED Talk, in which she describes the impact deepfakes have had on her life, is well worth a watch.
It’s a sobering reminder of just how dangerous tech can be.
Updated at 3.37pm on 12 November 2018 and 9.24am on 15 October 2018.
Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) is CEO of Rogerwilco, a multi-award-winning independent digital agency best known for its expertise with Drupal, SEO and content marketing. A Scot by birth, he moved to South Africa in the early 2000s in his quest to support a winning rugby team — a search he’s reluctantly forsaken. Together with Mark Eardley, he co-authored Business to Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, (Penguin Random House, 2016) and may be found on LinkedIn. Charlie contributes the monthly “Clicks ‘n Tricks” column, which looks at how brands are using digital channels to engage their customers, to MarkLives.
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