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Artificial Intelligence Fake News Deepfakes

Click this link to win a million dollars! (Or, will fake news kill marketing hoaxes?)

By Jason Xenopoulos, Global Chief Creative Officer



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January 4, 2024 | 6 min read

Party’s over, folks. VML’s Jason Xenopoulos declares a regrettable moratorium on marketing hoaxes as AI-driven fake news and misinformation threaten our very grip on reality.

A person reading a newspaper that is on fire

Will fake news kill marketing stunts and hoaxes? / Nijwam Swargiary via Unsplash

Video may not have killed the radio star, but fake news is about to wipe out our ability to use hoaxes and pranks to engage and entertain audiences.

Snoop Dogg recently announced that he was “giving up smoke” on social media. His fans were shocked until he revealed that the post was part of a humorous advertising campaign – for a fire pit brand, of course. While this prank was innocent enough, I’m not sure that brands will be able to intentionally tread this line between fact and fiction for much longer.

In our noisy world of information overload, marketers are always looking for novel ways to cut through. Sometimes, an innocent little misdirect can be an effective technique for grabbing attention. There are the more lighthearted April Fool’s campaigns like ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ from 1996 (in which Taco Bell announced that it would be buying the Liberty Bell to reduce the country’s debt). Then there are the more serious initiatives like ‘The Gunshop’ in 2015 (designed to disrupt gun violence).

Across this spectrum, hoaxes have been an effective technique for engaging audiences. But as 2024 begins, we’re entering a new era of rampant misinformation in which pranks of this kind aren’t quite as benign as they once were.

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Marketing in the fake news era

Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed a dizzying rise in the volume of misinformation. While fake news is not a new phenomenon, its reach and impact have been fueled by the rapid growth of the internet and social media. At first, it was the occasional outlandish headline designed to lure us down some digital rabbit hole. But that simple clickbait eventually grew into the sophisticated and increasingly weaponized ecosystem of fake news that is growing before our eyes.

We quickly learned to question online content and fact-check unknown sources, but just when it seemed that we might have this threat under control, a new wave of algorithmically enabled fakery emerged. Remember how people used to say ‘you can’t believe everything you hear’? Well, suddenly we couldn’t believe everything we saw either.

Powered by AI, deepfake videos and images began to proliferate across the web. Suddenly, we had to question everything, even our most dependable of senses. And that was before the current wave of generative AI tools and large language models had been introduced to the public.

Today, it’s possible to fake almost anything and it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s real and what isn’t.

Things can still get worse

Over the past few years, much has been written about the potential perils of AI, but I believe that the biggest danger isn’t that AI will take our jobs or give rise to a future run by machines, but rather that it will make it impossible to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. While this may not sound like a dystopian nightmare, if we reach a point where we can no longer believe anything we see or read, the fabric of trust that holds society together will unravel. And while such a post-truth world may not be run by machines, maybe that future will quickly become the dystopian reality many people fear.

This may sound like an alarmist overreaction to a few light-hearted marketing pranks, but in a world where the line between fact and fiction has become increasingly blurred, brands and other institutions have an obligation to provide their audiences with credible sources of information. I hate to sound like a killjoy, but in this new era I’m simply not sure if hoaxes and pranks can be considered innocent or funny jokes anymore.

Then again, who’s to say whether this is really my opinion, or just another little bit of fake news?

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Artificial Intelligence Fake News Deepfakes

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