The Big Smoke looks at the biggest questions marketers need to ask themselves after the backlash around George Carlin-AI comedy fiasco
Love George Carlin? Did you love or cringe watching the recent “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead,” AI-created comedy special? Comedy Duo Dudesy, led by Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen, allegedly replicated Carlin’s distinctive style and voice using AI, without the approval of Carlin’s family or estate.This resulted in Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, publicly criticizing the video, saying that the AI portrayal was neither clever nor true to her father’s legacy, and lacked the consent of his estate.
The Carlin case exemplifies the risks marketers face when employing AI to mimic celebrities for humor or edginess. Sure, AI technology offers innovative possibilities in content creation, but it also places scrutiny on marketers, requiring that they prioritize brand safety, authenticity, and an understanding around intellectual property usage.
AI being used to create celebrity deepfakes for advertising and messaging is nothing new. Mr Beast has been featured in a scammy ad about Iphone giveaways, while MegaFon featured a Bruce Willis deepfake in an ad, and Elon Musk appeared in a deepfake Alpha Tech Corp ad. The worst part of these ads is not even the unauthorized use, it’s that neither were funny or clever enough to warrant the use. The Wall Street Journal quoted Aaron Moss from Greenberg Glusker saying “A lot of these companies purposefully get as close to the line as possible in order to almost troll the celebrities they’re targeting.” We get that, but at least make it actually funny.
Similarly, the $250 billion creator economy is also embracing AI, with virtual influencers like Aitana López and Lil Miquela engaging with major brands. We have seen a quick rise of interest in both the potential and the challenges of AI in influencer marketing, especially around authenticity and ethical content creation.
So, how can a marketer lean on AI, jump on the humor(less) deepfake train, and build creative and cost-effective solutions without risking brand backlash, unauthorized usage complaints, and public backlash? The challenge here is to navigate the fine line between innovative AI applications and the respect for intellectual property and personal rights.
What you focus on grows. Focus on Brand Safety
AI’s potential in marketing is vast and should be leveraged, but focusing on brand safety is critical.This involves rigorous vetting of any AI-generated content, and in the same way as readers want transparency from news sources if their articles are AI-generated, similar transparency is required with the audience about the nature and origin of what they are seeing and hearing. Part of this also requires marketers to commit to their C-Suite that they will proactively establish and follow guidelines which safeguard their brand against risks around unauthorized or unethical AI use.
How you use AI-generated content will determine how your customers trust you
AI-generated content blurs the lines between reality and simulation. With that comes the need for clear attribution to ensure marketers maintain trust and integrity. Full disclosure around AI generated content is not just a moral obligation by a brand, but also a strategic requirement. Consumer trust is fragile but also valuable, and marketers cannot afford the backlash that comes from unclear content practices impacting their brand. Being transparent about the use of AI, allows marketers to lower the probability of misunderstandings or suggestions that their content is misleading. For the C-suite and their relationship with their CMOs, this transparency helps build a culture that is both honest and accountable, showcasing how marketing supports the brand with values that are important to the market.
Finding the balance between AI and the human touch helps you maintain control
Clear attribution helps set realistic expectations about Ai-generated content, but it also helps audiences appreciate technological advancements, as well as the limitations. AI will continue to permeate almost every aspect of content creation for marketers – from voice synthesis to virtual influencers – how this is used and delivered to the audience will increasingly matter to ensure cut-through. Marketers often say about ChatGPT produced content, ‘Just humanize it’, and there is truth to that, but we would go one step further – ‘humanize it while applying human creativity and judgement to it’. Without human judgement and creativity, the use of AI tools can disappoint and underwhelm your audience and customers. Human judgement means ensuring that your marketing strategies are data-driven (obviously) while also being emotionally intelligent, culturally sensitive, and genuinely engaging (harder to figure out).
This combination of AI’s technical abilities with human judgement allows marketers to build campaigns that are technically sophisticated, fast-tracked to enter the market quickly while also being relatable and entertaining. Maintaining this balance helps marketers leverage AI while avoiding the risk of tone-deaf messaging or ethically ambiguous content. Or even worse – generic boring content the audience ignores!
Using AI and related tools helps marketers create globally accessible cost-effective and fast content, ultimately expanding market reach. But the approach cannot become overly task-oriented, in that it adheres to a content calendar without checks and balances.
Dave Trott once said that, “Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we can take to run over the competition.” This is a great reminder that AI can fastrack content production, streamline processes, and optimize efficiency…but the human element of creativity remains irreplaceable.
Balancing AI and Ethics in Marketing
Concerned about where you stand between innovation and integrity in AI-generated content? Talk to The Big Smoke to create impactful marketing strategies that respect intellectual property and maintain brand authenticity.