The power of imagination in a post-truth world

Stuart Jane Partner 01.11.23
Read time — 3 minutes
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Meet San. The revolutionary Chinese mobile brand, documenting the lives of three astronauts as they embark on their seven-year journey to Saturn.

Just this morning, the world watched Li devour 20 dim sum in zero gravity. Hao, meanwhile, looked out of the ship as a distant Mars cascaded into darkness behind him. From the everyday to the epic, San is unmissable watching.

And yet – there is no dim sum-filled spaceship passing Mars. No Li and Hao. No San. Because San is actually the world’s first ever deep-fake brand, imagined for China Mobile.

Does this story feel less impactful because it’s not real’? What’s true’ when it comes to entertainment? When it comes to brands?

We’re at a cultural moment where the world is, understandably, obsessed with truth and reality. From AI to increasing political polarity and disinformation, the notion of what’s true is heavily under scrutiny. Especially when the fate of elections and economies depend on it.

In the world of brand, truth has long been a hallmark of brand purpose and action. A way to build trust and affinity. And yet, tag lines like the future’s bright, the future’s orange” and Compare The Market’s meerkats have always leaned heavily into overclaim and fiction. The future isn’t a colour and talking animals aren’t real.

These are the staples of storytelling – deliberate misdirection, imagining characters and worlds, stretching the truth for dramatic effect – because they catch attention, aid memorability, achieve a goal, incite an emotion. And brands, at heart, are nothing if not stories.

A new freedom for brand

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What’s changed is technology – and the potential for these deceptions to become more convincing, and less easy to detect. The Rochambeau Club (Europe’s most exclusive social club) has done a brilliant job in generating interest and PR for Racquet Rosé, considering it doesn’t actually exist. Meanwhile the Abba Voyage tour (using virtual ABBA avatars performing alongside a live instrumental band), and Kendall Jenner’s AI chatbot for Meta use celebrity IP to blur the line between reality’ and imagination – extending careers, even achieving immortality. 

Imagine a future where AI versions of Coco Chanel and Alexander McQueen host The Great British Sewing Bee. Imagine a deep-fake brand like San – delighting, educating, and amazing audiences – for a fraction of the cost and environmental impact of sending a real rocket into space. Technology allows us to take off the truth’ brakes, making creative potential more expansive, just as it does in fiction.

Where do we draw the line? Brands need to distinguish between engagement and deception. A fiction that entertains and delights, or reveals a deeper truth about the audience or brand can be powerful. 

An AI influencer that people become emotionally attached to without realising they’re not real’ is no less engaging or even rewarding. 

Brands that are brave can embrace this as an opportunity to leap ahead. By thinking like a storyteller, powered by technology, we can unlock the creative potential of fictions. To create lives, actions and experiences where nothing is impossible, and the only limit is what we can imagine. To increase, not diminish, what brands mean in peoples’ minds. And to unleash the next innovative chapter of brand.

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