We Need to Talk About CGI Marketing Campaigns…

Jacquemus CGI marketing campaign for la bambino bag

CGI marketing content has evolved – aiming for a striking level of realism, and imitative of organic content (for example, made to look as if shot on an iPhone). Often quirky, playful, and engineered for virality, these CGI marketing campaigns have made waves on social media. But does it matter if they’re ‘real’ or not?

When it comes to production expectations for design & build companies, and brands looking to install physically, this trend does come with its own set of questions and implications. One of the key points to note with CGI marketing campaigns is the ease with which they can be reshared and reposted without context or credits.

Original sources and creators are not always cited, leading viewers to assume that these campaigns were physically produced and installed in the real world. As digital content is susceptible to the same factors that facilitate the spread of fake news, it can blur the lines between fiction and reality – and, long term, potentially brand trust and credibility.

An early example of this was and the ZARA ‘windowfront’ in NYC, made to look like a 3D effect LCD display.  This stunt garnered attention and response, partly because it was in the realm of a believable, tangible installation. The rise of mid-journey and realistic generative AI in the last year has only amplified this phenomenon, enabling ambitious concept projects to be made and shared by anyone.

“Simple illusions, like the 9:16 dimensions of a phone recording, or a pavement POV are startlingly effective in making something look ‘real'”

Fast forward to 2023, Jacquemus’s ‘La Bambino’ bag video is making the rounds on Instagram. The video satirically depicting the brands famous mini bags as novelty cars driving through Paris. Created by digital animator Ian Padgham (@origiful on Instagram), the video cleverly uses iPhone camera angles and optimized 9:16 screens to enhance realism and believability.

Similarly, the Maybelline Sky High Lash cgi campaign, also the work of Ian Padgham, showcases giant mascara wands and tubes applying the product in larger-than-life scenarios – such as the front of a London underground tube train and double decker bus.

While these examples may seem harmless and playful, the question arises: are they a gateway into the world of misleading marketing content by brands? Brands do tag the creators, but on first glance the visually realistic nature of the campaigns can imply greater budget, power, or influence than they actually possess for viewers not primed to factcheck.

In more serious cases, fashion and beauty content may stray into the unethical and misleading, giving audiences a false impression of production processes and working conditions – such as the recent and widely critiqued SHEIN influencer brand trip.

“Are ‘grey area’ campaigns a gateway into the world of misleading marketing content by brands?”

In response to this changing landscape, new standards are emerging for production and design companies, and brands too. To rival the visual impact of CGI campaigns, physical production stunts would need to step up their game to (literally) impossible levels.

With this in mind, brands might choose to shift toward more experiential territory, focusing on connecting with customers on a personal level in real life. While CGI can be used to create captivating (and eco-friendly) social media moments, it should only be a part of a comprehensive physical and experiential strategy to avoid damaging brand trust. Striking a balance between virtual and physical experiences will be essential to maintain authenticity and transparency with consumers.

“While CGI can be used to create captivating (and eco-friendly) social media moments, it should only be a part of a comprehensive physical and experiential strategy to avoid damaging brand trust.”

Only brands with staggering production budgets will be able to rival the promotional stunts created by CGI content. (Image: Louis Vuitton X Yayoi Kusama was a multi million global physical rollout)

The rise of CGI marketing campaigns has indeed changed the game for brands and production companies. The pursuit of realism has blurred the lines between fiction and reality, presenting new questions for brands and their audiences. As we move forward, brands should work to balance their strategy to ensure that CGI complements physical experiences rather than overshadowing them, striking the right balance to leave a lasting impression on customers both online and offline.

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