Influencer marketing has existed in the advertising world for a while now and because the number of brands investing in influencer campaigns has been increasing every day, it has continued to evolve, leading us into a new age of Artificial Influencer Marketing (Ravindra, S., 2020). Both Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have made it possible to now have artificially created influencers.
In an interview with Fortune, the founder, and CEO of Talent Resources, Mike Heller, said:
“When you have an influencer that has 30 million followers, 20 million, five million—that’s more powerful than any of the other traditional media outlets out there. (Ravindra, S., 2020).”
Thus we are now in the new age were digitally created avatars are leading the world in Social Media Marketing and are becoming attractive to brands. As CGI technology gets better, virtual influencers open some exciting avenues for brands, marketers, and advertisers.
With these virtual influencers, creative marketers can create their own brand ambassadors using artificial intelligence, 3D and CGI technology. These virtual influencers are computer-created fictional characters whose “personalities” are entirely fictional. Digital artists bring those virtual influencers to life by recreating their features via visual animation to look like as accurate as human faces. Some companies will create their own influencers from scratch and shape their characters to control every aspect of them while others will rely on these influencers to reach mass audience to deliver their messages. (Tayenaka, T., 2020) Virtual influencers give brands the power to reflect their desired look and aesthetic. Some of the most prominent CGI influencers now include Miquela, Shudu, and Colonel Sanders.
Who are they?
Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela)
Lil Miquela is a Brazilian-American fashion influencer and music artist from Downey, California. Miquela is a very special influencer, who is only 19 years old and has reached 2.6 Million followers on Instagram (Dodgson, L., 2019). She was created by the L.A. based agency, Brud. Her huge following and engagement have led her to model for big brand names like Prada, Chanel, Diesel, Vetements, and Supreme to just name a few. Like many other fashion Instagram influencers, Lil Miquela is in demand by those brands because they want to have access to her large audience.
Lil Miquela has a unique “conscience” personality though, not like every other influencer. She is vocal and supports socio-political causes that matter to her such as #blacklivesmatter. She also supports an organization called Black Girls Code, which promotes technology training for girls. She released a Spotify top 10 track and had over 66 K views of her latest short video on Instagram. Miquela also appeared in a Calvin Klein campaign alongside Bella Hadid, however, this ad campaign has raised a lot of controversies.
Shudu is the world’s first digital supermodel, she is in her 20s and is from South Africa, where her name originates from. She has 205K followers and was created by Cameron-James Wilson, a Photographer and Visual Artist based out of London. He intended on making her features so natural to make her so realistic, after being inspired by the Princess of South Africa Barbie doll. Shudu represents a dark-skinned woman with strong features that set the standards for natural beauty along with its imperfections. Shudu is only one of six more of Wilson’s CGI designs.
Shudu has been featured by Fenty Beauty, shot a campaign with Balmain, and walked the BAFTA Awards. (Pixel Perfect, 2019)
If you want to see the Shudu come to life in a virtual photoshoot, make sure to check this video:
Colonel Sanders (@KFC)
Meant to parody the life-style of Instagram influencers, KFC created digital Colonel Sanders as their “virtual influencer”. He is famous for his signature grey hair, black-rimmed glasses, and white suit. He always reveals his full torso which has a tattoo that reads “Secret Recipe for Success”, which is also used as a hashtag on KFC’s posts through their Instagram account. Colonel appears to be in his late 30s to mid-40s and has a girlfriend, who is also a computer-generated model named Dagny.
He ceaselessly collaborates with different manufacturers, such as Dr. Pepper, Old Spice, Casper, and TurboTax.
So, what does the future look like for these influencers and will they last?
Artificial Influencers are proving every day to be a success and therefore are attracting the attention of many brands, especially with how the world is now shaped post-pandemic where everything is becoming more virtual and contactless. Not to mention the number of businesses and creators in the influencer- marketing industry who struggled during the pandemic as brand campaigns were being canceled or postponed due to the restrictions in place. This shift is thus forcing the influencer-marketing business model to continue investing in virtual influencers. In fact, during the lockdown, the World Health Organization (WHO) contracted the virtual influencer Knox Frost to share
COVID-19 Tips, solicit donations, and share dependable advice to his followers. You can read more here: Why the World Health Organization Turned to a Virtual Influencer to Share COVID-19 Tips.
In the past, influencer marketing was the least data-driven part of the digital marketing industry, but now it is the most crucial, and with CGI influencers the future is only data-driven. The constant improvements of AI within social media platforms, their algorithms, and their data, will only continue to improve their effectiveness and their efficiency The opportunities to come with influencers like Lil Miquela, Shudu, and other CGI fashion models are not bound to just social media, soon they will be walking down the runway through holograms. This technology does not stop there, soon these same technologies are going to be adopted to create artificial humans and virtual live streamers who will be the next generation of teachers, models, financial advisors, doctors, and even TV Co-hosts, and this is only the beginning.
For a long time, the fashion industry has not adopted any change especially with 3D, wherein other industries it’s very standard. Thus, by having a powerful tool such as a CGI influencer, luxury brands are being able to put together a virtual shoot in a similar way like a real-life one with the exception of being able to control everything, from the environment, to pose, to clothes, to mood, to make-up, to every single detail. Not only does it give them full control, but it also saves brands time from searching for the rich human influencers and reduces the risk of negative feedback, since the brand is in control of the messaging. This is only the beginning of what this technology is capable of doing and what this industry is willing to experiment with as well.
“They can be available 24/7 and have a personality molded to be exactly what you want. They can be whatever you want them to be. These things are massive plus points for brands because they make the perfect ambassador.” Harry Hugo, co-founder of the Goat Agency (Tayenaka, T.,2020,)
Ethical and Social Concerns for the Future
Although marketers and brands are confident that influencer marketing is here to stay and is the future strategy for digital marketing, there are a lot of ethical and social concerns with using CGI influencers specifically. Miquela and other CGI influencers remind us of how we should not take everything we see on Instagram as aspirational or as true because it’s all fake. Theoretically, virtual influencers offer power and control to brands like never before, which means they can avoid certain topics, say certain words or ignite certain causes while associate with others based on their agenda. This gives so much power to the creators of those virtual influencers, who are human and by nature, humans are susceptible to biases and misconduct. Right now, the future is uncertain as there no appropriate intellectual property registrations and accountabilities in place to clear social issues or prosecute these creators if they misuse those virtual influencers. There are always good and bad sides to technology and how it is used, with CGI influencers, human responsibility, bylaws, and self-moral compass will be the key factors to how much those virtual influencers will shape our future.
Master of Marketing student
Schulich School of Business