What could be more terrifying than the increasingly realistic deepfakes that see actors' faces inserted into films retrospectively? That's right – the same thing happening with advertising. It seems new product placement could soon be 'deepfaked' into your favourite classic films. What a time to be alive.
One British tech company has allegedly invented a method of automatically inserting advertising into any film, past or present, using the power of AI. It's already being used by one Chinese streaming company – and the likes of Netflix and Amazon could be next. Yep, you could soon be seeing ads for the best cameraphones in your favourite black-and-white film.
According to BBC News (opens in new tab), advertising company Mirriad (opens in new tab) expects its digital product placement tech to become much more widespread. And not every user has to see the same thing – advertising can be targeted depending on the viewer. "So if you like wine then the hero of a film could be drinking a particular bottle that you might be tempted to try. Or if you are teetotal the star might be sipping on a bottle of branded water."
It all sounds rather nightmarish and dystopian, and it also begs tricky questions regarding the artistry of filmmaking. "It calls into question the role of the production designer, who has put a lot of thought into the look of something, only for some random advertiser to come along at a later date and spoil it with changes," film critic Anne Bilson told the BBC.
But others believe it could benefit artists, particularly in the music industry – which has keenly felt the loss of touring as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. "The opportunity to carve open a new revenue stream is rare," says Red Light Management's James Sandom. "The ability to retrospectively use existing content and build new content with it in mind is exciting."
Still, from our perspective, the idea of retroactive product placement makes even the most terrifying deepfakes on the internet look like child play. It's certainly impressive from a VFX perspective, but if it does become as mainstream as the company hopes, we just hope it remains subtle. We're not sure we can handle Citizen Kane with iPhones.