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Willy Wonka Glasgow Event – The limitations of AI in marketing

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet over the last week, you may have heard about the Willy Wonka immersive event that took place in Glasgow. It’s been hailed as the first ‘AI-generated event’ – for all the wrong reasons.


Run by events company, House of Illuminati, the event promised to be a “day of unparalleled magic and wonder”. Cancelled after the first day due to complaints from angry guests, the day was described as “an absolute shambles” and left many disappointed children in tears. Some guests even called the police, with families demanding refunds as the event was not even close to the event they were sold.


Image from Stuart Sinclair

The marketing images and website text for the event was all generated by AI, showing a dream-like wonderland full of colour and sweets, which couldn’t be further from reality – a bleak warehouse with a few hired props.


House of Illuminati claimed that the event would have “astonishing backdrops, superb props, and captivating performances that define the essence of Willy Wonka’s world,” amongst other grandiose features.


Image from House of Illuminati's website

Even the actor’s scripts were AI-generated nonsense, birthing the now viral “Unknown” character – an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls of the factory.

 

House of Illuminati’s website also promised “An Adventure in Every Bite. From sweet delicacies to chocolatey wonders, attendees will have the opportunity to explore and indulge in the many facets of this beloved treat. It’s not just an event; it’s a celebration of chocolate in all its delightful forms.” Instead, guests were reportedly given a quarter-cup of lemonade and a singular jelly bean.


Image from House of Illuminati's website

 

Some online commenters pointed out that customers should have noticed that the images and website were AI-generated and shouldn’t have spent £35 per ticket on something so obviously slapdash and too-good-to-be true. Regardless, anyone who prides themselves in their work should want to exceed their customers’ expectations, rather than misrepresenting an event just to earn a quick buck. Not only is false advertising morally wrong, it’s also illegal under the Misrepresentation Act 1967, which “protects consumers from false or fraudulent claims that induce you into buying something or entering into a contract.”

 

AI is not the enemy and can be an incredibly useful tool in marketing when you know how to use it properly.

 

The key to making AI work for you and your organisation is the prompts you feed it. The more generic and skeletal your prompts are, the more likely it is to make something up and therefore mislead your customers. Whether you’re hosting an event or selling a product, if you want to use AI to your advantage, make sure you give as much detail as you can in your prompts.

 

The second thing, which something AI cannot teach you, is to use common sense. If you’ve generated social media content or web copy using AI, make sure you read it through and weigh it up against your actual offering. Of course, your main objective is to sell, and you want to paint your offering in the best possible light, but if you’re marketing the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce and delivering a beat-up old truck in its place, you have to know that your customers won’t be happy.


Image from Stuart Sinclair

The concept of advertising misleading customers is not novel; the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been battling companies for decades over false advertising. When you get a fast-food burger, the actual product never looks as appetising as the promotional pictures. AI just makes it quicker and easier for the average person to do what large corporations have been doing in Photoshop for years. It might just be that the Willy Wonka experience in Glasgow is the most blatant we’ve ever seen it.


If you believe in the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” going viral online has been the most successful marketing tactic for House of Illuminati (for the wrong reasons). People all over the world are aware of this disastrous event and it’s safe to say that House of Illuminati’s reputation won’t recover from the damage this scandal brought.

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