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Artificial Intelligence Deepfakes Agency Leadership

Here lies the truth: Advertising’s relationship with the truth is beautifully wobbly

By Jeff Bowerman, Executive creative director



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January 16, 2024 | 7 min read

As concerns over AI-enabled fakery grow, Dept’s Jeff Bowerman offers an alternative perspective: advertising’s always been about bending the truth – and the results are often gorgeous.

A person in silhouette shouting into a loudspeaker

Advertising and the truth: Never perfect bedfellows, says Dept's Jeff Bowerman / Patrick Fore via Unsplash

For many, 2023 will be crowned the year when fake advertising took over the world.

A never-ending stream of computer-generated out-of-home, from mascaras to condoms to puffas, invaded our cities via our social feeds. Generative AI generated unreal collabs, like Harry Potter x Balenciaga.

The effect was to demonstrate that literally any advert is possible to make without the need of an agency, budget, or brief.

The audience comments on these moments ranged from awe to ethical debates. For me and many others in the industry, it has encouraged skepticism about the authenticity of every clever ad in our mind’s eye.

Did I actually see that ad, in the real world, with my own eyes? Or just in the press? Or shared on social?

And does it actually matter?

How much does advertising really care about the truth?

I’ll go further. I’d say our industry has always had a complex relationship with the truth.

We’ve spent years telling consumers that a new lipstick will make them beautiful. That this body spray will have girls swarming after you. That this watch will make you richer and better looking. That these cheesy snacks will make you popular. That this jacket will solve climate change.

That buying more stuff will make you happy.

Even our relationships with clients (and each other) is a dance with duplicity. “Yes, the work in my book 100% went live in exactly the way I’m presenting it!” “Sure, this award entry happened exactly as the dramatic VO describes it!” “Of course we have 10 years of experience on this platform (which only launched 2 years ago)!”

“Oh yes, we will definitely deliver this on budget, on time, and get all the results you expect, without a hitch!”

None of those come from me, obviously. But this is all part of the fun, and it’s why creative people flourish in this industry. Dare I say, we’re bloody good liars.

So while Christmas is revered as the pinnacle of the advertising calendar, for me April Fools should be the winner.

The beautiful lie

The chance to say anything, however outlandish, all in the pursuit of memorability to land a message, surely is what advertising is meant to do. Embellished: sure! Downright untruths: maybe! Just grab people’s attention in the most creative ways possible.

And like Christmas (and pets) this spirit shouldn't be for one day only.

Some of my favorite work has played on this tension of truth and lie. Take for example…

To raise awareness of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, Paddy Power giving the forest (quite literally) a Brazilian for the Fifa World Cup. A perfectly shot helicopter viewpoint of “C’mon England” carved in the canopies was bound to cause uproar. The very fact people thought Paddy Power would go that far was a testament to their years of brilliant brand-building.

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Or perhaps video streaming platform Canalplay: to promote its back-catalog content, it launched its own super-strong coffee brand, Insomny: it was all you needed to be awake 24/7 to binge a dent in their content. I’m not sure if they actually made the coffee or not but a nice shareable image is just as effective (and a lot cheaper than faffing about with actually grinding beans).

This year’s best lie goes to Orange. With a brilliant slight of hand, the telecoms giant challenged how fans react to the French women’s football team, dynamically swapping the brilliant female players with deepfake AI male team players. Unbeknown to the audience, they were cheering the women’s team – which some of them had previously gave very little energy to, demonstrating how fans’ passion and support is entirely gendered.

The reason I’ve always loved advertising is that, at its best, it’s all about great big lies we create together that – somehow – manage to tell the truth better than anything.

Artificial Intelligence Deepfakes Agency Leadership

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DEPT® is a pioneering technology and marketing services company that creates end-to-end digital experiences for brands such as Google, KFC, Philips, Audi, Twitch,...

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