For years, the conventional wisdom for growing brands and achieving influence on social media has been to enhance perceived authenticity–whether through embracing real-life situations to tell their brand story, or crafting a relatable persona that can resonate with audiences.
But the growing sophistication of generative AI–and its impact on the content audiences consume– means marketers are now changing tack. With as much as 90% of online content expected to be synthetically generated by 2026, brands need to form a perspective on how they plan to co-exist with AI.
Already, we're seeing two camps emerge. Heinz, for example, has embraced AI as a multiplier of creativity, while Nikon has chosen to champion real-life, human-made content. And although Nikon positioning itself in direct opposition to AI makes sense in the context of its offering, the most sustainable strategy for the vast majority of brands will be to take the Heinz route.
As a result we’ve entered an era of ‘remix culture’. Everyday people now wield the ability to modify or generate any type of media they can imagine, start cultural conversations, and enact prompt influence. Brands will see most success by riding this new wave rather than fighting against the tide.
Embracing ‘remix’ culture
The generative AI genie is well and truly out of the bottle. This cultural turning point was marked when a 31-year-old construction worker from the Chicago area made an AI-generated image of Balenciaga Pope.
He achieved this extreme level of virality on social media by blurring the lines between fact and fiction, piquing human interest by creating a “surely not…” moment through the use of the Pope as an incongruous ambassador for the fashion brand.
There’s currently huge potential for others (both brands and individuals) to follow suit by bringing seemingly disparate concepts, aesthetics and brands together. Artists like ST4NGETHING have demonstrated the brilliant use of AI by inserting modern fashion brands into bygone eras, while Benjamin Benichou is using to bring the impossible to life with a Nike store on Mount Everest.
Of course, it’s possible that audiences will become desensitised to these tactics through increased exposure, or that regulations will slow the AI hype train. But for now at least, we’re in an imagination economy and there's a clear opportunity to shape perceptions and inspire audiences.
Accessibility for global audiences
Brands can also take advantage of generative AI to reach underrepresented audiences, and tap into new or unsaturated markets. By using the technology to break down communication barriers, not only does it make content more accessible, but also creates deeper and more prolonged engagement.
For example, Korean music giant Hybe has utilised AI voice technology to launch MIDNATT–an alter ego of their existing artist, Lee Hyun. Whilst retaining Lee Hyun’s original vocal texture and musical expression, MIDNATT can now sing fluently in 6 different languages, thereby broadening his appeal to global audiences.
Canadian musician Grimes has taken fan-artist interaction even further to create a deeper bond between the two. By offering ‘communal voice ownership’ and co-creation, where she allows fans to utilise her voice without penalty (and share in the upside), Grimes has paved the way for new models of fan-artist collaboration.
AI has also become a means to resurrect or prolong influence. Enlisting the help of AI technology to extract the late John Lennon’s voice from an old demo tape, The Beatles will be releasing their final record later this year. This has drawn mixed reactions from fans. But there are potentially less controversial opportunities that the technology enables for brands: allowing for the return of retired brand mascots or telling the stories of founders/creators for instance.
Rewards for brave brands
Early adopters of generative AI can rewrite the contemporary playbook for navigating influence in this new era of social. But against the backdrop of an elevated remix culture where consumers have free rein to manipulate brands’ assets and likeness in their creations, they must also consider how far they are willing to cede control over their IPs, and the implications of doing so.
This will involve a careful balancing act. While pushing for stricter controls over copyright could help protect brand equity, it risks alienating consumers. At the other end of the spectrum, a shared ownership model might seem like the new holy grail–after all, brands have always existed as a form of dialogue between marketers and consumers to a certain extent. But too much off-brand content generated by the public could dilute or distort established positioning.
Ultimately, right now, experimentation is key. The brands that will emerge victorious will be the ones that fearlessly tinker and iterate alongside generative AI. Eventually, they will be the ones to shape the future of online influence.
Agalia Tan is a planner at We Are Social Singapore.