The people you follow on Instagram might not be people at all.
We all have feared that robots might take over our jobs but we never thought that would imply on influencers!
A virtual influencer or virtual model is a computer-generated fictional character that is used in social media marketing as a substitute for a “human influencer". Most virtual influencers are intentionally designed by 3D artists and use computer graphics and motion capture technology to resemble real people in real situations.
With more time spent interacting with phone screens in comparison to humans nowadays, people tend to follow virtual influencers on social media platforms just like real humans. In fact, it’s not easy to tell the difference. Moreover, such computer-generated humans focus on perfect visual quality to match the authenticity of real people. Experts suggest that virtual influencers can see 10x more engagement than an average human influencer on social media platforms.
These days, users are more hung up on finding real and authentic content, they care less about who is behind the account and more about what story they’re telling and how they’re telling it, and it’s becoming increasingly more likely that this new way of communicating will prevail for those brands revolutionizing influencer marketing.
This is the idea behind virtual influencer agencies. These agencies create embodiment — so photorealistic they can hardly be distinguished from actual humans — and curate their digital lives. The first digital influencer company to make it big was the LA-based agency named Brud (which was worth $125 million in 2019). Their portfolio consists of a number of lifelike influencers that enjoy popularity on Instagram, YouTube and beyond. Their biggest Brud star is Lil Miquela — a teenage fashionista and liberal issues advocate. She has managed to attract the attention of fashion magazines and luxury brands, as well as 3.1 million Instagram followers.
Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela, is a 19-year-old, Los Angeles-based, half Brazilian and half Spanish avatar. This project began in 2016 as an Instagram profile. The account details a fictional narrative which presents Miquela as a CGI character and model in conflict with other digital projects while marketing a variety of brands, primarily in fashion. As a marketing tool, Miquela has been featured in many product endorsements including Samsung and luxury brands such as Calvin Klein and Prada.
A number of virtual influencers are already exploring the music industry. Miquela has several singles out on Spotify. Same could be said about YouTube and other media — they can venture into anything, as long as there’s money to fund it.
Drama is bad for business because it can get out of hand. However, it makes for great publicity. What’s more, when the scandal is made-up and none of its participants are human — you can garner all of the benefits with none of the downsides. Lil Miquela and her Brud friends have already been at the centre of several manufactured controversies.
Miquela, who is known for her liberal views, had her account ‘hacked’ by another virtual influencer — a pro-Trump blonde named Bermuda. Said character is also known for dating, and publicly breaking up with a third virtual influencer, who goes by Blawko22. These are great storytelling opportunities that also help characters get media attention and generate a new fan base.
The biggest advantage brands have is that they have complete control over Influencer image. Businesses want to portray the perfect image to engage and persuade their users. Through using virtual influencers, this is possible. They can curate a virtual influencer with the personality, looks, and values that appeal to your audience exactly how they want it.
Though the tech industry entering the influencer job market intrigues me, I think we have to understand how and when this becomes manipulative. The integrity of influencers is questionable as it is- promoting body image that is not realistic, a lifestyle that isn’t affordable, etc.- the introduction of virtual influencers is just the cherry on this cake.
Most influencers already present very polarizing views. This is becoming excessive as these agencies try to push a particular ideology on their followers (which mostly tend to be liberal) just to draw as much attention as they can. They cause controversies and pick up fights with other virtual influencers which will want us to go down a rabbit hole for a thing which doesn’t even exist in the first place.