Wayne Gretzky Meets His AI-Generated Younger Self for GSK

The work touts an RSV vaccine in Canada

If you met your four-decades-younger self, what would you talk about?

For most folks, vaccines for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) probably wouldn't play into such a scenario. But most folks aren't hockey GOAT Wayne Gretzky.

No. 99's encounter with an impressive, somewhat creepy AI-generated Young Wayne, presented by pharma titan GSK, makes for one of the oddest and most memorable health ads we've seen all year.

GSK | Arexvy

The work touts Arexvy, a vaccine for older adults. In the :30, a very-young-adult Wayne, appearing in 62-year-old Gretzky's mirror, notes, "People think only kids can get it," then dispels that misconception.

It's nowhere near as manically marvelous as Old Spice's deepfake Dolph Lundgren. What is? Though a tad stilted, even unintentionally goofy, we couldn't turn away.

Beyond the brand message, the spot offers further proof that AI has come of age. It's no longer novel or exotic. It's a here-and-now tool for branding of all sorts, a mode of expression that can defy time and open fresh creative vistas.

GSK's ad constitutes a Gretzky mini-trend, as a youthful version of Wayne appeared for Tim Horton's awhile back. That ad employed a flesh-and-blood kid actor. (That's so 2019!)

"The creative concept comes from the idea of wishing you could give your younger self advice and flipping that on its head by featuring a conversation between Wayne and his younger self, where it's his younger self sharing information about RSV that is important for older adults to understand," GSK consumer marketing lead Patricia Moretti, tells Muse. "This required the use of AI technology to create a realistic version of younger Wayne."

As for the process of creating Wayne Jr., "After filming Wayne and an actor portraying his younger self, we trained an AI program to analyze real images and videos of young Wayne Gretzky, around the time he was drafted into the NHL, an iconic time in Wayne's life and one that most 60-year-olds will remember," says Anthony Chelvanathan, CCO at Edelman, lead agency on the project.

"We were able to access archival footage of Wayne from his younger years to ensure the AI generated version of Wayne was as accurate as possible," he says. "This AI program then developed a realistic version of 20-year-old Wayne Gretzky with facial features and a voice to match. We worked with audio house Grayson Matthews to smooth out the voice of the AI in post."

But, what if such marvels make viewers feel a tad ill at ease?

"We expect there will be a wide array of reactions, as it's surprising to see Wayne as his younger self," Chelvanathan says. "We wanted to make sure Young Wayne was as close as possible to the real thing, using this ever-evolving new technology to share our message more broadly and to an audience who would feel nostalgia from watching the spot. That’s the feeling we were hoping to evoke: nostalgia—and that you've just witnessed a caring, passing moment between a legend and his younger self."

Wildlife crafted the AI elements. David Hicks directed.

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