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Billion Dollar Boy’s 6-Month Trial Period Of AI Campaigns Led To Massive Results For Brands Like Versace And Xiaomi

Becky Owen, Global Chief Marketing Officer at creator marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy (BDB), is leading the vanguard of exploring generative AI’s creative potential for brands. The agency, founded ten years ago at “the dawn of creative marketing” when Instagram was just four years old, has evolved to focus on “building brands at scale, centering the voice of creators in every story we tell,” according to Becky. Their work now spans billboards, TV, websites, and more, “championing individual content makers…and empowering them to tell incredible stories for brands.”

In November 2023, BDB unveiled Muse. The fresh innovation unit was formed specifically to deeply investigate opportunities and pitfalls of emerging technologies like generative AI before embracing the hyped technology. Through Muse, Becky is taking a measured yet cutting-edge approach to leveraging the power of artificial intelligence in influencer marketing.

Becky and her team spent six months quietly understanding AI’s capabilities through trial campaigns with brands. The goal, as she states, was to be “intentional and strategic” with AI to enhance and elevate brands rather than distort or distract from their core identities. “It’s very investigative and about understanding the role of emerging technology. But it’s also how we tell incredible stories that inspire, shape, and lead the creator economy.”

Becky has witnessed the profound transformation of influencer marketing over the years. “It originally was bedroom vloggers, people doing jump cuts…or taking grainy photographs,” she recalls. But as technology advanced, “we could augment different parts of the content creation process to have surprise and delight.”

“Creators are now teaching everyone else how to do it,” BDB’s marketing leader states, “because they are the ones that are leaning into emerging technologies…brands are relying very heavily now on creators’ expertise, whereas before it was very much, ‘we’ll add you in if you’re lucky.’ Now it’s like, ‘we’re lucky if you let us work with you.'”

BDB’s Muse Unit Explores AI’s Creative Potential

Muse was created to investigate generative AI’s potential for marketing before embracing the technology. “Muse was born when everyone was going mental over AI,” Becky recounts. We were like, ‘We need to do something with AI.’ And then we realized we had no idea what it really was.’

The goal was to understand AI truly rather than make hollow claims about it. “We had this philosophy – just because we can doesn’t mean we should,” Becky explains. “We stayed quiet for six months…the role was actually to understand it before we came to market.”

Four brands agreed to explore AI campaigns with Muse. “We were fortunate that we had four different brands that were like, ‘We’re in, we’ll explore with you,'” says Becky. “We did campaigns but didn’t put certain work live because we thought it wasn’t good enough.”

After this investigative period, Muse felt it had enough real-world experience to identify how generative AI should be utilized for marketing. All four initial brands then moved quickly to run additional AI-powered campaigns.

“Versace came back and did another campaign immediately afterward…Xiaomi is now just doing an always-on strategy for the whole of 2024,” Becky reports. “Lipton has done another range of assets.”

Muse discovered AI could reinvigorate product-focused assets by reinterpreting products in engaging ways. It also unlocked affordable creative exploration, with Xiaomi rapidly prototyping animal-themed brand identities.

Artificial intelligence helped combat creative fatigue as well. “The assets you make are no longer living as long…but when the AI creativity is interesting or surprising, people don’t mind seeing it over and over,” Becky states.

Crucially, AI allowed brands to add an element of disruption consumers crave. “Consumers really want brands to be surprising, to challenge expectations, which is hard to do on your own,” Becky says. “It’s allowing [creators] to add this layer of extra creative play.”

Muse’s Multidisciplinary Approach to AI

According to Becky, “Muse is an in-house team of people training on this. We have creatives, those working with creators specifically, we have a strategy and someone that understands the commerciality of it.”

The key, she states, is being “intentional and strategic with AI” to avoid cases where “the voice of the brand is gone,” and it’s just “building something else” rather than enhancing the brand.

“The key thing we’ve identified is that layer of interrogation and insight. We call it the ‘why’ behind AI. Otherwise, that’s when it’s just a gimmick, or it feels flat.”

The process often starts by bringing Muse early to an upcoming campaign. “It works best in the early stages,” the unit leader says. We do that exploration piece. Many times, we’ve also brought creators into the room. We work with the creator live to experiment.

This collaborative, exploratory approach allows brands and creators to fully leverage AI’s creative potential in an intentional, strategic way that augments rather than replaces human creativity.

Virtual Influencers and the Future of AI Storytelling

Looking ahead, Becky sees virtual influencers and AI-generated video as the next frontier for Muse to explore. “The whole point is total curiosity,” she states. “We’ve focused on AI, but actually, there are other things that we will start exploring and already have.”

One area of interest is virtual influencers or “artificial characters” that can connect with audiences. Becky says she’s been “fascinated with virtual influencers for a very long time because they build community,” adding that “this community [is] emotionally connected to virtual influencers, despite everyone knowing that it’s fabricated.”

A major limitation has been the high cost and time required to create virtual influencers. But Becky believes “tools like Sora, AI’s new video tool, OpenAI’s new video tool, will probably start to open up the world of virtual influencers.”

Becky has collaborated on virtual influencer projects before, recognizing that “we have a proven capacity as humans to enjoy being entertained by characters.” She ponders, “What is the role of virtual influencers as characters that tell stories?”

While some may find fabricated influencers “spooky,” Becky says, “We love characters on TV, in books, in comic books.” As technology like AI video generation evolves, she expects virtual influencers “to be next on our radar once we’ve closed out” Muse’s current AI focus. However, Becky points out that with curiosity needs to come caution to ensure that any virtual humans produced don’t unintentionally reduce work for creators, actors, and models and ensure that it’s not harmfully impacting society’s standards of beauty. Brands and agencies need to be critical of their work.

For her and BDB, exploring new creative frontiers opened by emerging technologies like virtual influencers is essential to staying ahead of the curve.

Open-Ended Take on Emerging Technologies

When it comes to Muse’s long-term goals and milestones, Becky emphasizes an open-ended, investigative mindset rather than defined predictions or targets. “The philosophy of Muse is to have no milestones,” she states. “The role is not to have any predictions and to take things as they come and question them with some level of zero ulterior motive.”

The core mission is “to help understand what emerging technology is doing, how it’s impacting the creative economy, how it is impacting creators?” Becky explains. “The goal is to keep working, to keep growing, but the power of Muse is that we are looking at things and questioning them and not predicting them.”

According to her, this exploratory approach is necessary because “emerging technology doesn’t come with a rulebook. So you need agencies that are trying to write that rulebook.” Rather than being driven by profit motives, Muse aims to critically “interrogate” new technologies as they arise.

While Becky states it would be “wonderful” for Muse to grow into a more established unit, she has “no goals other than continuing to interrogate” each new technological development that could impact marketing and creativity.

The open-mindedness reflects Muse’s role in pushing the industry forward. As Becky puts it, “True creativity is no longer limited to these big businesses…it is these individuals who have all these different lived experiences. Those are the real storytellers.”

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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