Archive for September, 2018

Brands and bots: The new age of beauty…

Over the last few months I have noticed a lot in the news about AI technology. Life-like influencer bots have been created digitally to sell fashion and lifestyle brands like Opening Ceremony, Supreme and even their own merchandise by interacting with consumers and fans through Instagram. It first came to my attention when social media influencer, Lil Miquela, was revealed as actually being an AI bot. Another AI influencer named Bermuda (created by competitor company Cain Intelligence) hacked into Lil Miquela’s account and revealed to her 1.4m followers that this ‘person’ wasn’t real. Fans were outraged that Lil Miquela and her creators had been lying to them, and although this caused a backlash within the community, this also started a conversation and put these new tech companies on the map.

I found myself asking how this could possibly be real. It was scary to realise that a technology company could fool 1.4m people into thinking that a bot was a real human. My mind was blown.

After some digging, I discovered that Lil Miquela’s creators are part of a highly intelligent company called Brud.fyi. They actually create AI bots with conscious minds, which are able to think and make their own decisions. This kind of technology meant that Lil Miquela could live her fake, online life without conscious input from the company that made her.

This technology didn’t fool everyone though, some eagle-eyed fans did start to question her existence. Did people not care that she was a bot? Did it not matter, as long as the aesthetic of her photos was perfect? Once the secret about Lil Miquela was out, Brud.fyi decided to buy Bermuda from its rivals. They gave her a pixel perfect makeover and relaunched her as their own. Not only were people commenting on Bermuda’s beauty but, but they also were complimenting her new level of render, interacting with her as if she was real. Whether our ‘perfect’ idols are real or not doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Bermuda before and after her makeover 

Fashion label Balmain recently launched its very first campaign with AI models as the face of it. After seeing the controversy with Lil Miquela I questioned why such a highly influential brand would do this? Where do we draw the line in our quest for perfection? And how will this new technology affect younger generations?

These days, even the real people we see online already come with photoshopped complexions and face-tuned features, so what is ‘real’ anyway? This is simply just another example of unachievable beauty standards.

In comparison, we are also seeing a rise in ‘real’, with brands taking a stand and having confidence with a voice of their own. Boots have moved into this area with their recent faceless ad campaign highlighting how beauty makes you feel rather than look, with a range of non-professional models. ASOS are now putting a stop to editing their models with visible stretch marks and scars, making the brand feel more relatable to the consumer. There has also been a rise in influencers like Megan Crabbe, with her 1M-follower Instagram account, ‘bodyposipanda’. She is undeniably herself and is the queen of body positivity and a huge influence to many women of all shapes and sizes.

The art and technology that goes into these bots is fascinating, but with it brings concerns around younger generations feeling the need to be pixel perfect. The Balmain campaign is beautiful, and to some extent shows inclusivity, but why not celebrate diversity with real models? Technology is all well and good but what about the social responsibility these brands have?

It’s an interesting discussion, and one that I’m sure will develop over the next few years to the point where we could even start to see moving, talking bots on our TV screens.

Bots VS humans. Whose side are you on?

The value of out-of-category learning

The best innovation often comes from looking at categories outside of your traditional competition or frame reference. Next-generation property player Wework is just one recent example of this, although its founders would probably blanch at being described as “property”. It’s impossible to understate just how hot their brand is. Valued at $20 billion, it’s more hotly tipped than a variety of long established property groups and with 250,000 members in 72 cities its growth curve is meteoric.

Wework’s genius has been its ability to create a buzzy, club-like community vibe that has proved both attractive and valuable to a growing generation of start-ups, creative professionals and the self-employed. Whereas traditional property brands think in terms of tenancy and facility management, Wework’s reference points have been members’ clubs and boutique hotels with their talent for feel, experience and community. But beneath the cleverly orchestrated atmosphere, the model is deceptively simple – make the basic service affordable and charge generously for the extras.

But as demand for flexible working spaces grows, Wework’s model of “real estate as a service” is being widely copied and spawning an industry of “co-working” spaces. The Wework brand therefore cannot maintain its differentiating vision of being the home to thriving businesses if it competes solely on price, flexibility, location and cooler sofas.

That’s why Wework’s recent acquisition of Designation – a Chicago-based design school is so interesting – and smart. The brand is recognising the “real estate as a service” model it has invented must evolve into something else that can increase loyalty, differentiation and crucially higher margin upsell to its members in the future. If the previous brand borrowed from the world of hotels and members’ clubs, it’s now taking inspiration from venture capital brands like Google Labs or Ycombinator by looking to shape, mentor and grow its members’ actual businesses – a brand differentiator that is more emotive, aspirational and crucially, harder to copy. That said, to truly position itself as interested in the wider growth of its members, Wework will have to look deeply at and invest in the human side of its delivery model and brand culture to truly foster a values-led service ethos that doesn’t start and end with flat whites and Scandinavian furniture. It’s increasingly in the business of culture and consulting rather than merely a more flexible property model. It’s a brave leap and an exciting one for one of the world’s true brand innovators.