TL;DR: Influencer marketing is so successful because it’s a means for brands to interact with specific audiences in an authentic way through advocates that consumers trust. Virtual influencers are emerging as the new social media celebrity, bringing up issues in transparency and authenticity in how brands work with them.
The formula of a social media influencer is something the marketing industry is all too familiar with — a person with perfectly posed Instagram photos that seamlessly highlights a favorite product, place or service while maintaining a certain authenticity and reaching the right niche audiences.
Influencer Miquela Sousa, known as Lil Miquela on Instagram, a 19-year-old Brazilian-American model, musical artist has amassed more than 1 million followers over the past two years, but her celebrity wasn’t the way of influencers as we know them. Miquela is mostly a normal influencer — she went to Coachella, posed with other influencer friends at events in fashionable outfits and raised money for organizations like Black Girls Code. Brands like Prada and Diesel had her takeover their Instagram accounts. She received a write up in Vogue and was on the cover of Highsnobiety. Through screens, Miquela walked and talked like an influencer except she wasn’t real, but created through computer-generated imagery, or CGI.
Origins of CGI Influencers
The mystery behind Miquela and other CGI influencers like her have audiences hooked and fascinated. Is it an art project? A commentary on social media and society? A way to raise awareness for certain societal issues and causes? Or just a PR stunt to make money?
Techcrunch reported that the company behind Miquela was called Brud, a small tech startup that specialize in artificial intelligence and robotics, which has received millions from Silicon Valley investors. Brud still hasn’t said why they’ve created CGI influencers. There is a theory that the company will create a social network for people to create their own CGI model — a life-like Bitmoji. Regardless of the intent, brands bought into the hype and intrigue with requests for Miquela to represent their brands.
Other CGI influencers like Shudu have also recently gained attention. She looked so lifelike that some users thought she a real person. After being featured by Rihanna’s Fenty, Shudu was dubbed the “world’s first digital supermodel.”
Her creator is celebrity photographer, James Cameron-Wilson. Notebly Wilson, a white male, created Shudu as a black female, which has received criticism that he’s profiting off someone he isn’t. Wilson defended Shudu as an art project and said that he hadn’t created Shudu with the intent of her becoming a social media influencer.
Some can argue that there is an artistry to this, and artists are allowed to profit from their work. We can see this from artists such as the virtual musical group, The Gorillaz, who play shows and make appearances as though they’re real people. But we understood from the start that they aren’t.
In traditional influencer marketing, there are rules and regulations with the FTC that influencers who are paid to promote a brand must disclose it in their posts with hashtags like #ad or #sponsored. We haven’t seen virtual influencers follow those same guidelines bringing up the issue of transparency. Consumers don’t know who directly is profiting from CGI influencers. Is a virtual influencer deceiving to consumers or brands interested to collaborate?
The Future of CGI Influencers
For now, brands see the business opportunities. CGI is buzzing on social media and a novelty to be a part of. This tactic in influencer marketing is growing in popularity because there is a certain allure behind it and audiences are curious. However, the market may become oversaturated with those trying to profit from this marketing tactic and the intrigue could wear off.
Is the future of this a CGI focused social platform? People already portray themselves as a different person on social than they are in their everyday lives by curating images and stories that make them seem more exciting and interesting. If people are already appearing as someone they’re not online, creating a CGI avatar to do the same isn’t that far off.
We’re seeing a shift in society where reality is filtered through a lens on social media. Users live their lives through their phones and create a different reality for themselves and followers. CGI influencers could be the stepping stone in pushing a curated reality one step further.
If living, breathing influencers are more your style, check out these eight influencers to know.