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Why intelligent brands are reverting to user-generated content amid the generative AI boom

  • Edward Nick 

The generative AI boom represents a watershed moment for the world of marketing, and every brand will soon be faced with a transformative decision to make: join the machines or beat them at their own game. 

Out-innovating the large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT that are capable of creating just about any form of content at a moment’s notice can be profoundly difficult and expensive in comparison to the alternative. But as the boom becomes all-encompassing, keeping things authentic could become a key desire for your leads.

If you’ve spent any time browsing social media in the past year, it’s likely that you’ll have seen a generative AI advertisement. These ads have already become popular among startups and SMEs as a means of creating quick, easy, and visually stimulating content without having to commit more resources to ideation and production than are necessary. 

Why intelligent brands are reverting to user-generated content amid the generative AI boom

However, as we can see from the example above, ads using suspected generative AI images are already prompting a backlash among customers. 

To announce that its products would be sold at Target, Nguyen Coffee Supply used what its followers believed was an AI to advertise the partnership on Instagram.

While the company’s reasons for taking this measure are unclear, it can be hard not to sympathize with the company which has 61,000 followers on Instagram and 17 employees according to PitchBook data

At such a scale, it’s reasonable to expect a professionally created advertisement using artists would made a far deeper budgeting impact when machines can deliver similar results. 

It’s for this reason that we may be at the beginning of a war of attrition between brand authenticity and generative AI marketing strategies. 

The rise of the acoustic brand

At this stage, it’s important to acknowledge that generative AI is inevitable. Cost-effective marketing generally wins when it comes to caring for KPIs and conversion rate optimization (CRO) and for many firms, embracing the capabilities of LLMs is simply too big of an opportunity to miss out on simply because of its negative connotations. 

However, anxiety over generative AI is real, and will only intensify when the current hype cycle gives way to implementation at enterprise level. 

In terms of job security, 87% of marketers are worried about technology replacing their jobs. This sentiment will be shared across a vast range of industries as the technology continues to evolve. 

How will this impact consumer expectations in the coming years? According to Gartner data it could leverage the rise of the ‘acoustic brand’.

The consulting firm anticipates that by 2027, “20% of brands will lean into positioning and differentiation predicated on the absence of AI in their business and products.”

This is based on the expectation that the generative AI hype cycle will give way to saturation and widespread connotations of inauthenticity within GenAI marketing materials. 

As a change in consumer sentiment that will be linked to the rejection of generative AI content used by brands, we’ll see more consumers actively seeking out individuality within branding. This will manifest itself in a greater level of appreciation for brands with distinct personalities and shared values. 

Amid markets saturated by the prevalence of cost-cutting artificial intelligence, customers will look to build connections with brands, which can help to boost retention and advocacy in a more sustained manner than today. This could even manifest itself in a wider rejection of AI chatbots as consumers look to have more satisfying and memorable experiences when engaging with brands. 

This poses a dilemma for startups and SMEs. Generative AI will soon have the capabilities to produce ultra low-cost marketing materials and ads that can be ready for publication instantaneously, but its true value could undermine its effectiveness in an age where authenticity reigns supreme. 

Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help to promote brand value and authenticity while remaining largely cost effective for brands across a wide range of industries: user-generated content (UGC).

Embracing UGC as the ultimate social proof

In an age where consumers are demanding more acoustic brands, user-generated content will become a leading consideration for marketers online. 

What is UGC? The term refers to just about any original, brand-specific content that’s created by customers and published on social media or other channels online. UGC can also come in many forms, including testimonials, product reviews, images, videos, and all sorts of other formats. 

Furthermore, UGC is an excellent tool for building trust, and can even influence purchase intent. Adweek data suggests that 85% of consumers believe that UGC is more influential than content made by brands. 

User-generated content could also be a tool to bring a sense of creativity back to the marketing landscape, and could be important to prevent generative AI burnout from impacting your brand. 

This has been made all the more pertinent in the wake of the user backlash aimed at Magic: The Gathering, which entered the headlines at the beginning of 2024 when fans accused the company of publishing a generative AI image just weeks after promising to only use art created by humans. 

The company denied that it had used generative AI despite fans continuing to point telling signs of artificial intelligence, illustrating how businesses should take extra care in the content they create in the age of GenAI. 

Optimizing brand values with UGC

So, how can your brand utilize user-generated content to optimize its brand values for less? There are plenty of approaches that can be embraced according to the personality your brand wants to utilize on social media and on-site. 

One reliable approach is to set up competitions for users to submit images or multimedia posts where the best reply wins. These competitions could mean a free product or discount, or any other freebie that invites consumers to share pictures of them using products or posing with a products. 

Why intelligent brands are reverting to user-generated content amid the generative AI boom

As an example, for National Pet Day, Starbucks published a user-submitted reel of images featuring their pets alongside the brand’s selection of drinks and products. 

Apple has also historically been a strong proponent of UGC, and made a splash by centering its iPhone advertising campaign around the high-quality images captured by users with the smartphone’s high-spec camera. 

Why intelligent brands are reverting to user-generated content amid the generative AI boom

However, UGC doesn’t have to be formulaic. Taco Bell engaged directly with one high-profile influencer as a means of showcasing a new product concept to a wider audience. 

This can also work by conducting social listening to thank users for positive reviews and testimonials online. 

By engaging more frequently with followers and your online audience, your opportunities to repurpose organice UGC grow, and it’s certainly worth taking the time to refine your tone of voice on social platforms to help generate a stronger level of authenticity that can become identifiable among your consumers. 

Although it can be tricky for startups and SMEs to leverage a consistent brand on a cross-channel basis, utilizing a digital PR agency to establish a personality that stems from your on-site presence and beyond can be extremely advantageous–particularly as individuality become increasingly sought after in the age of generative AI. 

Generative AI to complement marketing campaigns

Although generative AI will certainly become more omnipresent throughout the marketing landscape, ambitious brands are more likely to find success by using the technology to complement existing campaign strategies. 

The combination of synthetic data and big data insights means that marketers have more analytical insights than ever before at their disposal, while LLMs like ChatGPT can be excellent tools to assist in content ideation and insight. 

This symbiotic relationship between generative AI and human marketers means that campaigns can become more creative than ever and in an efficient manner while brands can cater to more acoustically aware consumers. 

While it’s impossible to understand the impact that generative AI will have on marketing entirely, it’s essential that brands remain focused on audience sentiment towards the technology to understand how to formulate their campaigns in the future. By listening to your customers today, it’s possible to build the winning strategies of tomorrow.