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Throughout 2018, we saw virtual influencers rise in popularity. This begs the question: have we entered a real-life episode of Black Mirror? AI and CGI influencers have gained substantial followings on social media and can be seen posing in scenarios as real as any human influencers. The difference between the two? Virtual influencers have no limit to their potential uses while humans do.
What is a “virtual influencer”?
Virtual influencers are exactly what they sound like. These digital avatars are 100 percent computer-generated and use AI to operate on social media in the same ways human influencers do. Virtual Instagram stars like Shudu, Lil’ Miquela and Imma have millions of followers despite the fact that they are digital creations. However, their online-only existence doesn’t keep them from working closely with brands from Fenty Beauty to Prada and even producing their own music on Spotify.
Virtual personalities are revolutionizing influencer marketing because they can be molded to fit any story, brand or community, and can support any cause. “A lot of it is going to be like any kind of content studio. In 2019 and 2020 we’re going to see a lot of these,” stated Betaworks Partner Peter Rojas on the rise of virtual influencers. In short, virtual influencers will only grow larger and are here to stay.
One of the most well-known virtual influencers is Miquela Sousa, more commonly known as “Lil’ Miquela.” She is a “19-year-old” model who has racked up 1.5 million followers and participated in Prada’s fall 2018 fashion show. Miquela is also known for her avid participation in the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ+ communities and more.
Brud, the company responsible for the creation of Lil’Miquela as well as her “brother” Blawko, is worth upwards of $125 million after a recent round of financing, led by Spark Capital, from investors looking to get a piece of the “avatar” action.
Shudu Gram is the world’s first “digital supermodel” and was created as a photography project by Cameron-James Wilson and quickly gained attention after modeling in a Fenty Beauty ad that went viral. Since then she has amassed nearly 600,000 followers and has participated in modeling photo shoots and even “posed” on the red carpet at the British Film Awards.
Wilson has since developed several more digital supermodels named Margot and Zhi who stood alongside Shudu as Balmain’s “virtual army” on their first official campaign. “We live in such a filtered world now, where real is becoming fake,” he noted in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “I wanted to create something that is fantasy toward becoming more real, and bringing it completely the other way.”
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What does this mean for the future?
AI and CGI-generated influencers are causing a stir in the social media world and are quickly becoming a more cost-effective alternative to traditional influencer marketing campaigns. They can be created to fit any brand’s needs and can represent the luxurious lives influencers are known for having without any of the associated costs.
Brands no longer need to provide free product to influencers who will post pictures wearing them or put them up in fancy hotels or apartments in exchange for product promotion or a positive review. As we move into the future, it looks as if we will see plenty more virtual influencers replacing humans.
“When I look at these 3D, human-based characters, it’s so close to the uncanny valley. We want to develop characters and we want to tell fictional stories rooted in reality,” former Creative Artists agent, Dylan Flynn commented. Although virtual influencers haven’t nudged out the humans quite yet, they aren’t slowing down any time soon and shouldn’t be underestimated.
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Author’s bio: Amanda Peterson is a writer for Enlightened Digital and software engineer from New York City. When she’s not trying to find the best record store in the city, you can find her curled up watching Netflix with her Puggle, Hendrix.