‘Terrifying’ Willy Wonka event used AI images to mislead guests. Here’s how to avoid getting duped by fake marketing photos.

A Willy Wonka-themed event in Scotland that invited guests to “indulge in a chocolate fantasy” turned out to be a sparsely decorated warehouse with nightmarish knock-off characters and limited supplies that didn’t even include chocolate. The AI-generated images used in the event’s marketing materials are partially to blame for the disappointment.

While many visitors were duped by the colorfully manipulated images, experts have shared what people can look out for when it comes to future AI-marketed events.

What ‘Willy’s Chocolate Experience’ looked like to visitors

Guests who paid up to £35 ($44) for a ticket to the immersive attraction in Glasgow told various media outlets that it was “poorly done” and “terrifying.” Some parents were so angry, they called the police. Social media posts about Willy’s Chocolate Experience have generated millions of views over the past week.

Actor Paul Connell, who was hired to play Willy Wonka, told the Independent that he was given a script with 15 pages of “AI-generated gibberish” and asked to “improvise” when props weren’t available. Kirsty Paterson, who portrayed an Oompa Loompa, told Vulture that the children in attendance were “quite upset,” but she tried to make the best of the situation.

Viral footage showed a character called “The Unknown,” who isn’t in any Wonka-related movies or Roald Dahl-authored books, wearing all black and a chrome mask as they hid behind a mirror. When they appeared, children recoiled in fear.

House of Illuminati is responsible for the Wonka event and other experiences that appear to be advertised with AI-generated art. A Rolling Stone investigation found that its director, Billy Coull, has published more than 15 books with AI-generated text. Coull said he was sorry that his “vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book didn’t come to fruition” in an appearance on STV News.

“We fully apologize for what has happened and will be giving full refunds to each and every person that purchased tickets,” the company said in a statement on its Facebook page, according to the New York Times. The page has since been removed.

How to avoid falling for an AI marketing scam

Willy’s Chocolate Experience closed on Feb. 25, but as the fallout from the event continues, experts say consumers need to be skeptical of the advertisements they see online. Karim Adib, a digital marketing expert in England, told Yahoo News that the recent event reminded him of Fyre Festival, a 2017 music event in the Bahamas that was advertised as a luxury paradise, yet turned out to be disastrous.

“[Fyre Festival images] were not AI-generated, but the false information still deceived many consumers,” he explained. “Seek out reviews, independent social media posts not from the event organizers, and news coverage from credible sources before paying to attend.”

Pavel Goldman-Kalaydin, the Berlin-based head of AI and machine learning at deepfake detection company Sumsub, provided advice on how to spot AI-generated images like the ones used on the Willy’s Chocolate Experience website.

“Look for inconsistencies in facial features, blurriness or distortions in the background or objects, wrong direction of lighting and shadows, etc.,” he said. “You could also check the image’s metadata to see if it has been manipulated or altered in software.”

“The devil is in the details when it comes to faked images,” he added.

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