Personalization at Scale: What Synthetic Media’s Rise Means for Brands

Advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) is giving rise to synthetic media. But is it something brands should lean into? Here, Christian Jones, head of marketing, Hawthorne Advertising, discusses synthetic media’s advantages and how marketers can integrate it into their brand strategy.

 

Synthetic Media Can Drive Personalization at Scale

Consumers expect personalization. It’s table stakes in 2022, and brands that can’t deliver the personalized content people expect are at risk of losing customers to competitors who can. But while companies of all sizes can define customer segments, it’s difficult to personalize digital content using traditional methods due to the expense. Smaller companies and startups, in particular, find the price tag impossible.

The emergence of synthetic media makes producing personalized content fast, easy, and affordable.

Synthetic media, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a catch-all term for the artificial production, manipulation, and modification of data and media by automated means, especially through the use of artificial intelligence algorithms.” In sum, it’s content produced by technology, not by humans directly. The most visible type of synthetic media at this stage is “deepfakes.” While there are countless creative examples, the Tom Cruise deepfake is often referenced based on his global familiarity and an admirable character impression. But what if customers could interact with your brand’s spokesperson or representative as a deepfake, as museum visitors in Florida did with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí? This kind of interaction could be game-changing.

Deepfakes (and their more nefarious implications) aside, synthetic media has many non-video applications that are immensely useful, including AI-written text generation, music composition, realistic human photogeneration, voice synthesis, and more. As technology advances, the toolsets for creation will become easier and more accessible.

For specific examples of how synthetic media may be of immediate use to brands, consider the avatar as a virtual spokesperson and brand representative. What if technology could render your products already on a consumer or an avatar that represents your target audience? It’s easier to see yourself buying shoes or a new hoodie if you’ve already tried it on, creating brand affinity within audience segments.

In Roadrunner, the Anthony Bourdain documentary, filmmakers leveraged synthetic media to create a realistic voice-over from Bourdain that he never actually voiced. Synthetic media also creates new possibilities for companies with a global customer base. This is deeply distressing to anyone who knew or loved the late author and television star. But it does illustrate the possibilities of editing and creating video content with synthetic media.

After developing video content with a host speaking a message in one language, synthetic media toolsets make it simple to translate a video message and “voice-over” into dozens of other languages. Creating new ad spots without additional voice-over recording, reshooting, or dubbing? It’s almost unheard of. Script changes are also a snap — edit the script, and the facial movements and VO follow along. The tools to generate synthetic media can essentially eliminate traditional “linear” production processes for localization, customization and personalization.

How Synthetic Media Will Evolve in the Near Term

The advancements in the production capabilities to generate synthetic media are evolving quickly, so it’s a good idea for brand marketers to know its advantages and understand its limitations. Currently, one of those limitations is the uncanny valley phenomenon. As the technology evolves and target audiences become accustomed to synthetically generated content, that will likely be less of a concern. But a measured approach over the next 2-4 years is probably best.

Synthetic media is already making inroads with consumers, and the acceptance rate of the emerging technology may follow a trajectory similar to photo filtering, widely popularized by Snap and Instagram. Photo filters have been a gamechanger in the photo-sharing space because algorithm-driven platforms make incredibly complex operations simple for everyday users. That’s starting to happen with synthetic media too.

Younger consumers are experts with filters on Instagram, more receptive to tools like digital face-swapping technology and more comfortable interacting through digital personas. Platforms like Rosebud let users map their facial expressions onto avatars to tell stories and bring old photos to life, giving users a “decentralized Hollywood on your laptop,” according to the creators.

Integrating Synthetic Media Into a Brand Strategy

As synthetic media usage on consumer platforms grows, the impact on brand marketing will increase because the potential advantages are massive. In addition to the ability to personalize at scale, synthetic media can fundamentally change concepts like spokesperson name and likeness usage. This provides brands with PR crisis-proof spokespeople (since non-human avatars are impervious to scandals, for now at least) and boosts the productivity of human spokespeople by reducing the need for recording sessions.

Brand marketers will need to be thoughtful about how they integrate synthetic media into their strategy. For companies that have a synthetic and/or tech-forward focus, it might be a natural fit, whereas brands that are high-touch and/or human-centered should proceed cautiously. The target customer is also a consideration; younger audiences are definitely more receptive.

It hasn’t fully escaped the uncanny valley, but synthetic media and other technologies will eventually automate many creative processes associated with video production, including scriptwriting. As the palette of tools becomes more advanced, marketing, as we know, will change; but we’re not there yet. For now, brand marketers should keep a sharp eye on the explosion of new tools to exploit this new tech and be ready to jump in when the time is right.