Generative AI presents an opportunity to boost efficiency and flex creative muscles, but it is more important than ever to understand how consumers feel about AI-generated visuals before integrating these tools into your workflow, writes Dr. Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative, Getty Images.

The marketing industry is currently grappling with what an AI-powered future will hold for their brand, their visual identity, and how to manage it in an environment where people are constantly questioning what it means to be real.

At Getty Images, we have been tracking global consumer sentiment on AI since we launched our creative intelligence platform, VisualGPS, in 2020. Now, AI tools are everywhere – disrupting nearly every industry, in every region and across every medium. Our new report, “Building Trust in the Age of AI”, highlights the critical importance of authenticity and trust in consumer engagement with brands employing AI-generated imagery, with almost 90% of consumers globally wanting to know whether an image has been created using AI. Communicators need to thoughtfully consider the risks and rewards of generative AI content – when to use it and when not to.

Tips for assessing AI use

You might be asking yourself, where do I start? One way to approach this question is to reflect on the core message of your campaign. Evaluate which type of imagery (AI-generated, UGC, pre-shot) and which format (image or video) best aligns with your objectives. Successful advertising has always relied on highly creative and authentic visual storytelling, whether a brand opts for pre-shot or AI-generated content. From prompting highly conceptual images using generative AI tools to crafting a campaign from scratch with pre-shot visuals, creativity remains an indispensable resource for building deeper connections with your audience.

A helpful way to think about AI is as an additional tool, one that can enhance human creativity and improve creative workflows. But if you are planning a campaign which is rooted in authentic connection and trust, consider pre-shot imagery over AI-generated imagery – 98% of consumers now agree that ‘authentic’ images and videos are paramount in establishing trust.

Stay true to your brand mission

Suppose your marketing strategy is to tell the real stories of real people. This objective alone should serve as an indicator to go for human-created visuals over those generated using AI. Our VisualGPS research shows that people define ‘authentic’ as ‘real/the real thing’, followed by ‘true/truthful’ and ‘original’, and this sentiment is also echoed through the overwhelming response to our collections – #ShowUs, The Disability Collection and The Disrupt Aging Collection – all of which have either been informed by or created by the people they represent.

One company that has led the charge is Dove, who we partnered with to create the #ShowUs Collection. Dove’s pledge to never use AI imagery to represent real women in their adverts is built on findings from their own customer research, which showed that nearly half of women worldwide feel pressure to alter their appearance based on imagery they consume, even if they know it is AI-generated1. This commitment is a prime example of a brand understanding its mission and prioritising its audiences’ trust by opting for pre-shot imagery depicting the real and true.

It is not only self-esteem that is a concern to consumers when it comes to AI. Our report stresses the paradox in European attitudes since we started tracking consumer sentiment on AI in 2020, with a 50/50 split among those who are nervous and excited about the impact AI will have on the world. While Germans are the most excited about the possibilities that AI technology brings, French and British people are among the most nervous. Marketers need to finely balance establishing consumer trust with understanding their nervousness as they consider incorporating generative AI tools into their workflow and creating campaigns that are aimed at this audience.

AI is a game changer for product-led campaigns

The possibilities of generative AI extend much further than just traditional print marketing, social media posts and billboards. Marketers are also starting to explore AI’s endless capabilities by customising and fine-tuning commercially safe generative AI models with their brand’s visual style to create on-brand content for their campaigns. 

Take the creative agency McCann as an example. They harnessed generative AI to develop the ‘Mucus Masher’ game for Reckitt’s cold congestion relief product Mucinex, where customers could interact with the brand’s mascot and ‘quash’ their mucus. The campaign helped reinforce the benefits of Mucinex whilst allowing customers to experience an interactive AI-led game. This is a leading example of how a business has implemented AI effectively – tapping into a portion of audiences who are excited by new AI technology, whilst also being transparent to audiences about the technological creation of the game.

Methodology: 

Getty Images’ VisualGPS Reports offer unparalleled visual and creative intelligence backed by a rigorous methodology that combines visual insights from over 60 visual content and advertising experts with cultural insights, proprietary search and download trends from Getty Images and iStock (+ 2.8 billion searches each year), and consumer perspectives from ongoing global consumer surveys covering over 250 topics. The data from "Building Trust in the Age of AI," report was collected from four studies during a two-year period from July 2022 to September 2023. The sample included adults aged 18 and above, with a sample size of 7,500 per survey. The research covered 25 countries, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Singapore, the UK, US, and others.

1https://fashionunited.uk/news/business/dove-commits-to-never-using-ai-to-represent-real-beauty/2024041175082