Deepfake celebrities are populating commercials

Companies are deepfaking celebrities to have them star in their ads.

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Deepfake celebrities are populating commercials


The Future. Companies are deepfaking celebrities to have them star in their ads. While some of these startups have permission to do so (giving the actors a nice payday for minimal work), most don’t and are betting they’ll get away with their use. With the deepfakes typically trained on professional footage of celebrities, expect them to start including clauses in their contracts that bar anyone from using the footage for any AI reproductions to protect their image.

Budget A-list

Whether celebrities like it or not, their likeness is now starring in several ads, reports WSJ.

  • Bruce Willis was in an ad last year for the Russian telecom company MegaFon.
  • Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio were in a promo video last month for machine-learning startup Paperspace Co.
  • Elon Musk starred in a few marketing videos for real-estate investment firm reAlpha last week.

But only Willis allowed for his likeness to be used, which has become the typical case for ads like this — a small tech startup makes a splash by including a digital rendition of a huge actor (someone everyone knows) to show off how powerful the tech is.

But the companies are too small to make it worthwhile for that actor to sue, so they take the risk knowing the buzz will be worthwhile.

Parody loophole 

The companies that create the celebrity deepfakes can do so by adhering to (fuzzy) parody law. Essentially, as long as the companies “took steps to ensure viewers understood that the celebrities depicted didn’t actually endorse the companies’ products or participate in the making of the videos,” then it’s passable. 

reAlpha’s CMO, Christie Currie, notes that “as long as it’s meant to be educational, satirical, and you have disclaimers in place, there shouldn’t be a problem as long as you’re not pushing a transaction.”

But as Ari Lightman, a digital media and marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says, maybe we’re playing with fire here: “We’re having a hard enough time with fake information. Now we have deepfakes, which look ever more convincing.”

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


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