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EDITORIAL AI image generation – is it poised to take over content marketing?

In a week where we saw the Pope – and Boris Johnson – sporting puffers and bling, possibly prompting Elon Musk and others to call for a temporary halt to AI development while we work out how to use it as a force for good, we find the travails of a raft of growing retailers showcases just where AI could play such a role.

French home and garden giant E.Leclerc, while maybe not using AI (yet!) has taken the bold step of using CGI to create the imagery for its marketing. The argument goes that, with a large inventory and the growing need for content – not least for a range of personalised marketing and social campaigns – it takes too long and is too costly to set up photoshoots and create image content the old-fashioned way.

Instead, it has turned to using CGI to meld product images with location images. And if you check out the images, it’s almost impossible to tell. 

This must, surely, be a precursor to the use of AI image generation, such as that offered by GPT4, launched last week, or Midjourney, the platform used to make the image of the Pope. If brands are now looking to use CGI to create image content to plug a gap, using AI to create bespoke images is the next logical step.

While there could be an argument that such images, CGI or AI generated, are fakery and so not representative of real products and so could be considered misleading, there is an even stronger argument that, used sensibly, such technology actually offers a better way to fulfil the content needs of both brands and their customers.

The key thing is how to use it sensibly. Musk et al have called for a moratorium on AI training for six months or so to work out the ethical and best ways to do it so that AI doesn’t start making things up, or, worse, taking us down a road of ‘fake news’, where you now can not only never trust what you read online, but also what you see. 

Perhaps creating ‘made up’ AI generated images for product marketing is benign enough to not count, but it does throw up an ethical dilemma: how real should your marketing content be? 

From a marketer’s point of view the pros of using AI image generation are tempting. They save time and money, they create original artwork (in theory), the brand is in control of the content and, more tangentially, they could also be sold as NFTs. On the downside, the output may be flawed, AI tools can be costly and as more AI platforms do it and their content end up online, originality may be lost.

As the tech is perfected it is certain that we will see brands using AI-generated image content for marketing – and more. Will they tell their consumers? Do they care? We are at the start of an AI journey for retailers, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds

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