Absolut Vodka Trains AI to be Inclusive, But Why Not Capture Real Photos of Actual People?

Side-by-side portraits of two women: the first with short dark hair in profile view, and the second facing forward, with very short hair, wearing a black coat.

It is well known that bias is an issue with AI image generators. One way or another, AI seems incapable of striking the right balance. There are many reasons for this issue, most of which relate to how AI is trained. Absolut — yes, the vodka brand — wants to fix this problem, and its ideas for how are bizarre.

Absolut teamed up with Copy Lab for its new “Absolut Intelligence” marketing campaign. The images for this campaign were created using an AI that Absolut and others trained using a diverse set of about 10,000 photographs that highlight people of many different cultures and racial identities.

The liquor brand has uploaded nearly 20 images it created using this custom-trained AI image generation model to Unsplash, promising that its Absolut Intelligence images, “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of fashion and lifestyle models in AI.” Absolut adds, “We believe in a true human portrait with a more inclusive representation.”

Close-up portrait of a young woman with short hair, highlighting her natural skin texture and a subtle smile. her eyes are green and she has a few freckles.

A confident woman wearing a black one-shoulder dress stands against a neutral background, looking directly at the camera.

Close-up portrait of a young person with freckles, short curly hair, and a bare shoulder, looking intently at the camera against a neutral background.

To Absolut’s credit, the campaign features AI-generated images of people different from what most AI models typically create, at least without extremely precise directions. The fact that there are images of older women, individuals with numerous different skin tones, and people with blemishes shows that much.

Portrait of a young man with short, light hair and a subtle smile, looking directly at the camera. the background is dark, emphasizing his face.

A monochrome portrait of an elderly woman with short dark hair, wearing a black turtleneck. she is looking to her right with a thoughtful expression.

A confident woman in a black turtleneck dress stands with hands on her hips against a light grey background. her expression is assertive and poised.

Absolut believes that its campaign has the power to start conversations about the use of AI and its inherent biases and potentially even proliferate more diverse images on the web, which may change how future AI models are trained.

However, the big question is whether Absolut had to use AI for this campaign at all. If the primary concern is inclusivity and diversity in imagery, then the company could have hired diverse models and photographers to capture portraits of them.

Absolut is no stranger to inclusivity in its marketing, as the company has long been progressive in its business practices and marketing. For example, Absolut has been supportive of the LGBTQ+ community for more than 40 years, which may seem common now but absolutely was not in the 1980s.

Black and white photo of a person with short hair lying on their side and looking at the camera, wearing a fitted dark shirt. the image has a textured, high-contrast aesthetic.

Portrait of a man with facial hair, looking directly at the camera, wearing a bright pink garment. the background is a soft blue texture.

Two models with long straight hair posing back-to-back, one black man shirtless and one asian woman in a black dress, against a grey background.

“For over forty years, Absolut has advocated for inclusivity, fluidity, and diverse representation,” Debasree Dasgupta, Global VP Marketing at Absolut explains, per Creative Bloq. “Our brand ethos is rooted in the concept of mixing — mixing ideas, identities, people, perspectives, and drinks. Given this foundation, we feel a deep responsibility to confront bias in AI head-on. By challenging these biases, we aim to contribute to the creation of a more equitable and inclusive technology that positively impacts individuals and communities on a global scale.”

It is easy to accept Absolut’s words at face value. The company has long shown that it walks the walk when it comes to inclusivity and acceptance of different people and communities. However, it’s not quite as easy to believe that AI imagery is the best way to live up to these admirable goals. After all, an excellent way to support different people is by hiring them.

Image credits: Absolut / Unsplash