Authenticity in the Age of AI

Artificial Intelligence is undoubtedly a rising tide we can no longer ignore. It is here to stay and will impact every aspect of our lives. The year 2023 will go down in the tech-history books as a landmark year during which generative AI models such as ChatGPT showed the world many possibilities which previously belonged to sci-fi movies. 2024 will be the year in which these newly unlocked powers get harnessed by many entities, several individuals and some governments in attempts to provide improved services and better solutions at a higher effciency.

But like in every good story, there are always two sides. And while AI is ushering in new and endless possibilities, it has also in the process turned into a universal puzzle, sparking endless debates and discussions across all sectors. In the digital realm that I am coming from, and the industries within which my companies operate, AI’s rise has muddied the waters between human creativity and machine-made creations,

This growing ambiguity is reshaping our online world, and is constantly challenging us to discern the real from the artificially generated, whether in news, social media, or art. This new reality is redefining our concepts of truth and trust, making the quest for authenticity in the age of AI both complex and intriguing.

We could debate for hours on end about how users are consuming AI-generated content, and most probably reach no meaningful conclusion. So what we’ve done as a team, is turn to data. Data, chico. It never lies. We’ve gone back to marketing basics; running A/B and split-tests across similar campaigns, comparing and contrasting AI-generated and human-generated content.. and then we crunched the numbers. What we’ve uncovered is a generic user-behavioural pattern across various clients/industries and over various social/online platforms. In a nutshell, the numbers showed that while AI-generated images and assets got their fair share of oohs and aahs, those creations that involved genuine and visible human effort received a much warmer reception. While the latter did get good reach and good visibility, the former got more ‘human-like’ interactions such as commenting and sharing, which are actions that we compare to recommendations, which is generally a behaviour more desired and appreciated by clients.

The issue with AI isn’t content, it’s emotion.

People want to know how something has been made because they profoundly appreciate the people who put in effort and emotion into their work, and because understanding the process is crucial in evaluating whether something is trustworthy or not, whether the source in question created great content, or simply stumbled onto it. To be honest, this has been the case for centuries. In art, just to name one example, the value of a masterpiece is not necessarily directly related to the finished product, but takes very much into consideration, the influence and reputation of the artist and the story behind the subject matter.

With this in mind and transposing the same reasoning to our day and topic, the process becomes as important as the product. Perhaps it doesn’t matter much to the audience if the process was somehow aided by prompting AI engines, what really matters is that the process didn’t just stop there. In other words, the consumers tend to see more value in the end-product when AI is only used an assistive tool. At least for now.

It seems that when we are only presented with a finished AI-generated product, the initial quick “wow” factor of AI-generated art tends to fade away just as quickly. After the initial amazement, the repetitive nature of such creations can become monotonous. For instance, envisioning Malta reimagined as a futuristic cityscape brimming with flying cars and neon lights might initially capture the imagination of several, but how many AI-generated images of a picturesque Malta filled with greenery can one admire before it gets stale (and before it starts to feel like one is rubbing salt in the wound?). In the local digital sphere, we’re currently experiencing this, with several media houses and agencies unfortunately falling into this trap of quickly generating ‘content’ to capture a quick click that is just as quickly turning bland. I believe this is going to backfire for them sooner rather than later.

In a growing sea of artificial content, people swim towards authentic creators.

We are currently in an era where numerous companies and agencies are leveraging AI for the mass production of content, encompassing everything from articles and artworks to newsletters and scripts, therefore leaning heavily towards prioritising quantity over quality. This strategy however, risks inundating digital spaces with a deluge of AI-generated material, potentially leading to audience desensitisation.

Does this mean that digital spaces are doomed to become a sea of AI generated garbage? Possibly yes, but contrary to what many think will be the end of numerous arts and skills, I believe that true artists, and their creations will actually and eventually shine brighter.

I personally believe that those content creators who choose to embody authenticity will become pivotal in the marketing arena. These creators will stand out with their distinctive narratives and the human element they bring to their work, forging a deeper connection with their audience.

Consequently, for marketers and agencies, the strategy of identifying and collaborating with such genuine creators is becoming indispensable. Audiences are actively seeking signs of sincere human effort and originality in the content they engage with. They are attracted not only to the aesthetic or informational value but also to content that narrates a human story, embodies a purpose, and reflects genuine effort.

This shift towards a preference for authenticity signifies a major transformation in content consumption and appreciation, elevating the importance of real creators in today’s digital world.

This shouldn’t suggest that people don’t like AI-generated content; on the contrary, in some cases, AI-generated content can indeed fare better than human-generated content. But there’s something about knowing what kind of effort went into creating something that just makes it feel more special.

The show isn’t enough anymore, people want to know what’s going on behind the ‘artificial’ scenes, and what they are seeking there is a bit of heart.

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