Wacom Enraged Customers by Using AI Art, But Says It’s Not To Blame

Wacom AI ad

Popular drawing tablet company Wacom is under fire for allegedly using AI-generated artwork on its social media, infuriating the company’s customer base who already face an existential threat due to AI-generated imagery.

The controversial story is a confusing, winding road of deception, but The Verge has done great keeping up with twists and turns. Yesterday, The Verge explained that Wacom posted images for a promotional campaign online that featured inconsistent illustrations of dragons, which immediately raised the hackles of the online commentariat.

Users on X, formerly Twitter, called out Wacom for allegedly using AI images.

“Great job @wacom for using AI generated image[s] for your latest marketing campaign. For a company built on the visual arts industry, this ad feels akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Doubly disheartening as a Chinese [artist] seeing the dragon used in this way,” Hanzhong Wang wrote on the social media platform.

While generative AI advanced significantly in 2023, some common telltale signs remain. In Wacom’s case, different iterations of the dragon showed odd scales and subpar blending, aspects a human artist would be unlikely to do. Adding fuel to the fire, Wacom deleted the images without making an immediate statement.

“The image features an illustration of a Chinese dragon to welcome in the Year of the Dragon but upon closer inspection, there is something a little ‘off’ about this mythical beastie. There are several very obvious errors in the design that no artist would have made, which raised the very strong suspicion that it was created by AI. That’s one way to piss off your entire market audience,” writes Laura Pollacco at The Mary Sue.

Wacom Speaks

Yesterday, days after the AI debacle, Wacom took to X to explain itself.

Wacom, taking a page out of the same playbook Wizards of the Coast recently used after it got busted for a similar issue, shifted the blame off itself and onto a third-party vendor. Wacom claims that the images it used were not labeled as AI-generated on the vendor’s website.

The Verge followed up this morning with a short blurb that claims Wacom “sourced its suspicious campaign imagery” from Adobe Stock user umair. The images were not labeled as being AI-generated, although that has done little to quell the outrage. Many are still convinced there is something fishy about the artwork.

The Problem

Whether AI creates these images or not, the problem is not meaningfully different.

As AI image generators get better, this issue is not going anywhere and it’s likely to only get worse. It is especially painful for artists when the offending company caters directly to to them, like Wacom does.

Taking Wacom at its word, its statement doesn’t address the larger, more threatening problem long-term for artists. Wacom was happy to head straight to a stock asset vendor for a marketing campaign rather than directly hire visual artists.

These controversies are so easily avoided, and the consequences for getting it wrong and using AI images are rather severe, so what compels the growing list of companies to make this same mistake?

Image credits: Featured image part of a now-deleted post from Wacom.