Key takeaways  

  • Apps that employ augmented reality or artificial intelligence to manipulate facial images are incredibly popular.
  • The ability to project ‘possible selves’ can have a positive effect during periods of change.
  • Opportunities exist for businesses to leverage visual communications to encourage empathy and advocacy.

FaceApp is currently one of Australia’s most popular apps, racking up over a million downloads in its first two weeks¹. You may have seen someone share its collages on a social feed: with various versions of their face as older, younger, the opposite sex, or more, shall we say, ‘sparkly’.

The app is one of the latest in a string of facial augmented reality experiences – such as Snapchat and Prisma – which allow users to manipulate reality by altering an image of their face. Users go on an immersive journey, exploring visuals to catch a glimpse of their possible selves.

Facial manipulation apps use a form of artificial intelligence that automatically edits pictures to show possible selves.

Smile Vector is another facial manipulation tool. Like FaceApp, it employs artificial intelligence (AI) to alter images of faces. This is done by leveraging a deep-learning-powered neural network – essentially a system that understands how to edit a face to make it look like it’s smiling.

Tom White, Smile Vector’s creator, claims that providing everyday individuals with easily accessible tools to play with artificial intelligence (AI) is a quantum step forward².

However, Smile Vector is only scratching the surface. AI is the new ‘it-girl’ of digital innovation, with advancements progressing at a rapid rate. From the ability to produce a 3D model via a 2D photograph³, to altering facial expressions, to generating sound effects, the possibilities AI offers to create a unique creative experience is at an all-time high.

So what opportunities does this present for big businesses? Can large corporations find a business purpose that leverages the allure of image manipulation?

The answer is yes.

Visual communications
in change management

An interesting example is how visual tools can guide people through times of change and complexity.

Recently, my team at PwC’s The Difference published a white paper on The Power of Visual Communication. In it, we explore ways in which visual communication can help to support strategic internal communications by way of increased audience understanding and engagement.

One of the guiding principles of visual communications is know your audience. At the heart of all meaningful visual communications is the essential understanding of your intended audience’s wants, needs and desires.

Another way to understand the power of AI relates to offering the user a progressive personal experience. Typically attributed to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on personal transition in grief and bereavement4, the change curve5 is widely used in business and change management as a means of measuring the engagement level of an intended audience.

The change curve describes the stages that a person undergoing significant change might experience: from resistance, through to acceptance and advocacy.

The change curve indicates the stages of user engagement during a period of transition.

with change

Taking a user from merely understanding your message to becoming an advocate is the greatest test of any communication. A way to do this is to bring the audience in, and encourage them to engage with the content: to play, learn and most importantly, interact with an experience.

In the early stages of a change program, you need to connect with the audience and excite interest. Showing what’s to come is a powerful way to do so.

The behavioural concept of showing is so powerful in making the future more vivid, it’s no surprise to see it surface frequently in the world of business. This is especially true in finance and insurance, where consumers find it hard to forego small immediate rewards for larger delayed ones.

A major financial services company tried this by introducing people to their future self. Individuals uploaded a portrait image of themselves into a portal and, by using very inexpensive software, were able to ‘age’ themselves. The aged image would then exhibit different facial characteristics based on their retirement income; e.g. upset if low retirement income, happy if high. This simple visual communications tool saw the amount that participants were willing to put into long-term savings accounts double6.

By showing their users what the future really looked like as opposed to putting numbers on a page, the company created a personal, engaging experience that in turn drove more profitable results. Audiences were invited to engage with the content, which saw them move swiftly along the change curve, becoming advocates for the business.

Embedding a message
with visuals

From a behavioural science perspective, humans are more likely to recall information presented to them in a unique or unusual way. This cognitive process is known as the Distinctiveness Effect7.

Humans also retain information at a much higher rate when it’s presented visually than just via text. Therefore, to ensure the longevity of a message, corporations should be presenting their key messages in unique, creative and visual ways.

Both evolution and science sit behind the power of visual communications. Human beings remember and learn from images more successfully than text. Therefore, in a world where attention spans are short and time-constrained, we must ask ourselves and our organisations the question: Are we missing an opportunity to engage with our audiences on a deeper level through visuals?

For more tips and trips on the power of visual communications, visit PwC’s The Difference – Creative Comms microsite here.


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Eliza Petre

Eliza Petre is the Comms Lead at PwC’s The Difference – Creative Comms.


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