In AI's Uncanny Valley, Creators Prove Their Value

Influencer marketing is poised to become more valuable as AI-generated content upends the media landscape

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As a voice actor and creator, Joy Ofodu—who has more than 130,000 followers on TikTok—is making a point of scouring contracts for provisions stipulating that she has to give permission to a brand or media company to re-create her voice using generative artificial intelligence.

“I have been, and am actively, battling clauses within my contracts that give the producer or client permission to use my voice in that generative way,” Ofodu said. “You can crop me, copy and paste. [But] I don’t want you to [use me to] train artificial intelligence. Then I’m out of a job.”

Despite being on active alert for the threat of generative AI, Ofodu has been using OpenAI tool ChatGPT daily since at least Jan. 3 to generate ideas and descriptions for podcasts, edit videos and even write legal documents.

Ofodu embodies the complicated relationship between creators and AI, which is about to make it even harder to differentiate between real and fake on the internet, a place that is already rife with misinformation.

In this changing media landscape, creators sit in a conflicted position. In some ways, they are the most real part of our digital worlds: humans we can see and hear, who are familiar touch points on the information superhighway, lauded by brands hoping to tap into their authenticity.

At the same time, they can be purveyors of misinformation: In April, the viral song “Heart on My Sleeve,” composed from AI-generated voices of The Weeknd and Drake, was posted by a TikTok user.

Despite these contradictions, marketers and creators told Adweek that the creator economy is poised to become more valuable—not less—in the age of AI, especially as people with true influence can connect with audiences in a way AI still cannot.

“It’s important for creators to be involved. They are the ones recognizable by an audience,” said Caspar Lee, co-founder at influencer agency Influencer and a creator himself with millions of followers on social platforms. “In the future, you’re not going to know if [someone is] a real person or not, and creators have the opportunity to be those authentic people.”

Creators vs. influencers

Generative AI has the power to produce content, whether that’s making videos, writing scripts and creating images—something that marketers have been relying on creators to do for years.

“There is a risk of AI displacing the role of creators either entirely and in part,” said Oliver Lewis, founder of social creative agency The Fifth, which has not yet worked on a campaign with AI-generated content or virtual influencers.

Marketers typically define influencers as a subset of creators that have social influence, usually by having a devoted following, rather than just posting good content online. True influence is harder to replicate—witness the backlash Levi’s received in March after saying that to increase diversity, it would test its fashion on AI-generated models, instead of hiring models of diverse races and body types.

In the future, you’re not going to know if [someone is] a real person or not, and creators have the opportunity to be those authentic people.

Caspar Lee, creator and co-founder at influencer agency Influencer

“When you’re working with influencers, you’re looking for brand safety, true representation and value alignment,” Lewis said. “All those things combined, that wields true influence. There is a space where AI influencers can be content creators, but it’s not coming at the level of influence [and creator].”

Despite the threat of AI to creators who don’t have followings, brands still want to hire creators adept at producing digital content for the same reason they would want to hire filmmakers or models.

“It’s about the craft, the point of view … that is their sweet spot [even if] they might not have any social influence outside of the work that they’re doing,” said Sadie Schabdach, evp of influencer marketing at Dentsu Creative.

AI infiltrating

AI is not replacing influencer marketing, with the exception of some brands’ collaborations in recent years with digital creators: In 2019, virtual influencer Lil Miquela and supermodel Bella Hadid worked together on a Calvin Klein ad, while fashion house LVMH and UK retailer Marks and Spencer launched virtual influencers ambassadors last year.

Dentsu Creative developed a virtual influencer in house and earlier this month, debuted a campaign with cat litter brand Fresh Step, which placed cats in AI-generated “couture” looks. The campaign, which coincided with the Met Gala, aimed to spotlight cats up for adoption, in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society. Schadbach said the agency wants to fully understand all the legal implications of generative AI before using it more widely.

Outside of AI creations appearing in ads themselves, creators and marketers are using AI as a tool in the creative process in expanding ways.

Ofodu said ChatGPT can be a helpful research tool. For her podcast, she was planning to interview an actor about dating in Los Angeles and asked ChatGPT to write between 10 and 20 questions.

“It might generate an interesting thread on LA culture,” Ofodu said. “I can add it to our interview schedule, and it turns it into content.”

Some creators see potential in making money directly off of AI: musician Grimes recently released a software called Elf.Tech which allows anyone to use her voice to make new music. Grimes and the creator of the new song with her vocals would split the royalties.

So far, one of generative AI’s biggest use cases is removing drudge work. Ofodu said ChatGPT can help write pitches for brands or other partners. In an ironic twist, Lewis said he could imagine an agency using AI to pitch creators, meaning AI-generated content may be talking to AI-generated content. We are not far from the robots communicating with each other.

Also, AI could be a helpful tool to tweak different creative assets quickly and see which resonates better with audiences.

“AI will allow you to iterate an A/B test creative in real-time,” Lewis said. “The advantage of digital advertising is to creatively flex and target different audiences.”

Of course, the more that creators—and the agencies that hire them—rely on the same AI tools, the more their content risks getting lost in a sea of sameness. But that has always been the problem of the internet, one that successful creators have been able to master, Lee said.

“There’s already way too much content, and there has been for a long time,” Lee said. “Creators are already competing with millions of hours of crazy junky content. When the [creator’s] content gets really good, that’s when it becomes a competition.”

This story is part of Adweek’s The Creatorverse digital features package, which spotlights the creator economy: the people who make up the industry’s new content royalty, and the marketers and agencies that collaborate with them to drive next-level engagement for their brands.

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