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We Warned You About Velebs

PLUS: Frequent Flier Free-Agency
September 22, 2023
Pictured: This influencer never needs to go pee. (Source: Zeyi Yang on Twitter/X).

Welcome to Friday, futurists (hi-five!).

We first discussed deepfakes and their negative psychological impact on the consumer way back in 2018. Today deepfaking is becoming more commonplace. 

A video is making the rounds today showing a “virtual influencer” in China delivering a livestream, which demonstrates stunning advancement in the technology. From our article explaining the topic of “velebs” — or, virtual celebrities: 

Virtual celebs - "velebs?" - don't harm stocks, they don't go on benders, and they don't get Me-Too'ed.

Virtual influencers solve many of the downsides of using humans:

They never tire. They never grow bored. They don’t get frustrated, and they don’t run out of things to say. They can multitask without needing to glance away. They never need to take a piss, take off for jury duty, pick the kids up from school, or sort out a disagreement with their ex-husband.

In short, velebs are the ultimate medium for capitalism: all of the upsides of humanity, with none of the pesky human shortcomings.

Back in 2020, we warned you about a coming wave of deepfake-powered marketing. It started with celebrities (like Damian Lillard in that cringe Hulu Ad), but it seems to be worming its way into lots of creative marketing, with a number of examples converging this week: 

All are examples of potential uses of deepfake technology, and in many cases are used to deceive. But it’s the commerce use-cases for deepfaking that makes for the most uncomfortable of bedfellows. 


Because a discerning eye, and a bit of skepticism, might make you question the reality of political or social disinformation in a deepfake.

In the case of the veleb, you’d never even know it was fake; because you had no cause to be suspicious.

— Phillip

P.S. The era of frequent flier free-agency is upon us. Are you a “Delta-gal” or an “Alaska-dude”? Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast to find out where Brian’s going to end up, and for Phillip’s recap of the ALL-IN Summit. Available wherever podcasts are found, or right over here.

Pictured: Twitter user Eddle4Dimension demonstrates an AI-generated ad for Nike that subliminally displays the Swoosh.

Hyperstition in the Wild. “Watermarking” is all the rage in AI-generated imagery at the moment. This week a number of images are making the rounds that feature the capabilities of ControlNet — a technology used with open-source GenAI tool, Stable Diffusion — where logos, messages, and even symbols are subliminally baked into faux ads. This is a direct impact of the concepts we outline in The Multiplayer Brand happening in real life.

Pictured: Americans are more tolerant of variable and demand-based pricing models (Source: Financial Times)

Unhappy Hour. Surge pricing, once the bane of late-night Uber rides, is now creeping into every consumer industry, from pints at the pub to concerts. Because why have stable prices when you can have a rollercoaster of financial unpredictability?

Our Take: The interesting finding in this report by the Financial Times, is that consumer attitudes vary wildly depending on the market segment (concerts vs. food & bev), and the reason for the pricing changes (more money going to the artist.)

This underscores our repeated mantra at Future Commerce: that understanding of cultural acceptance of a form of commerce is as important as the technology that powers it.

Spiritual Successor to the Cybertruck. Auto maker Infiniti showed off a concept this week that takes non-verbal cues from the Tesla Cybertruck. The new QX90 features a less-angular, more decidedly-smooth take on the maximalist Elon-tric truck. Like the Cybertruck, this clone is also not real yet. 

Our Take: As we covered in a keynote series this year, the mass homogenization of cars, toothbrushes, can openers, smartphones, and their related color palettes, cause dramatic and often maximalist reactions. Just as the Pontiac Aztek was the forebearer of the current crossover-SUV silhouette, we believe that the Cybertruck will lead a new wave of copycat design.

You’re Joker-ing me? Jared Leto, the man of many talents and even more hairstyles, has decided to cut ties with his skincare brand, Twentynine Palms, over an alleged breach of contract and mismanagement. Don't fret, Leto fans. There's always the possibility of a new Joker-themed moisturizer in the future.

Vending Tracker. In our ongoing series on vending commerce, Twitter user 0xgaut spotted a baguette vending machine in France. The machine offers two choices: la classique, and la tradition. “Americans are falling behind in innovation,” said the o.p. Our presidential platform: carb vending machines on every corner in the U.S. by 2045.

Hoover Dam Ain’t Nothin’. In a move that's sure to electrify the nation (pun absolutely intended), America has stumbled upon the lithium equivalent of Willy Wonka's golden ticket. Of course Nevada hits the geological jackpot. This follows other recent mineral deposit finds in the U.S., including a cobalt deposit in Idaho, that could rebalance geopolitical power and reduce the dependency that the U.S. has on China for battery technologies.

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