Robots taking over the world is a fear that once stemmed from sci-fi cinema and got people thinking. Now it has gone from a far fetched thought to a potential reality, thanks to radical developments in science, engineering and artificial intelligence.
Influencers have acquired a central role in social media economies and play a big part in consumer decision-making. Their unchallenged growth is mostly unregulated spheres that have changed the way we think about brand deals and advertisements. But, a new contender has entered the digital arena and threatens to disrupt the status quo – the AI-enabled virtual influencer.
With more than 1 billion people using social media all over the world, it’s more difficult than ever for brands to stand out from the crowd. Thus, the rise of the influencer, which has been one of the most significant changes in marketing in the last decade.
Millions of people around the world are taking to Instagram to follow and engage with a new wave of online personalities: virtual influencers.
What are virtual influencers?
By definition, virtual influencers or CGI influencers as they can also be called, are fictional computer-generated ‘people’ or ‘personalities’ who have the realistic characteristics, features and personalities of humans.
They are becoming a real force to be reckoned with in the influencer marketing industry, with more of them emerging on Instagram every week and more brands queuing up to get involved with this futuristic means of marketing.
How are they humanised?
With an emphasis on visual quality, virtual humans are computer graphics created via precise mathematical modelling to manipulate curves and surfaces and sculpt figures. It is a challenging skill that needs great flexibility and precision involving analytics and modelling. Virtual humans are constructed using vast amounts of data on human appearance and what structures attract more people.
NS Nappinai, Advocate, Supreme Court and Founder of Cyber Saathi, said, “Responsibility and liability of any action of a robotic Virtual influencer would lie with its creator and platform hosting them.”
She added, “It is imperative for a platform to ensure full disclosure and transparency about such influencers. Else it can amount to misrepresentation or deceit and where such action is done with such intent to defraud or commit illegality it becomes a criminal offence.”
How do they work?
Behind each of them are clever creators - brands and individuals with a keen eye for technology - who remain faceless. They are the ones responsible for growing their Instagram platforms and moulding these virtual figures into the internationally recognised influencers they are quickly becoming.
The creators choose the way they look, dress and act. They also decide who they hang out with, date, fall out with and collaborate with on Instagram. Best of all, they get to keep the money these influencers make from their brand deals.
These creators then edit their influencers onto whatever backdrops they want. So, if they have created the type of influencer that likes to travel, then all they need is a high-resolution backdrop image of some far-flung location.
How do brands benefit?
Still with us on this? It’s ok if you’re not - it’s a pretty crazy thing to get your head around. However, it is something that we all need to know about as these types of influencers will be appearing in more and more of our favourite brands' marketing campaigns in the future. There is nobody that needs to be more aware of this trend than the brands who are looking to stay ahead of the curve and reach out to a whole new type of audience.
Some of the most popular virtual influencers have already reached well over the million follower milestone as people all over the world continue to be infatuated with their Instagram lives. So just like 'human influencers', brands that choose to collaborate with these virtual faces will be opened up to huge audiences and a whole range of benefits. Flexibility for brands is another draw worth noting.
Virtual Influencers will give brands more control over their collaborations. For example, if a real-life influencer makes a mistake it can be difficult to resolve often having to re-shoot and as a result, the campaign’s launch can become delayed. When it comes to virtual influencers, the mistake can be erased and simply amended within a matter of minutes.Like most things in life, it takes someone to test the water before others jump in and the same has happened with the virtual influencer trend.
Some brands have started to dip their toe into this futuristic way of marketing. Global automotive brand Renault has created their very own virtual ambassador, Liv, who was introduced to us in their latest television advertisement - a pioneering move that many are sure to replicate themselves soon. Dior, Coach, Balenciaga and OUAI are just a handful of the designer names that have also partnered with upcoming virtual stars.
Some of the top virtual influencers:
Trevor McFedries & Sara Decou are the co-founders of Brud and the creators of the first computer-generated social media influencer, Lil Miquela. She has since amassed a large social media following and has donned brands including Chanel, Burberry and Fendi.
1- Lil Miquela
Half Brazilian, Half Spanish, Lil Miquela were one of, if not THE first virtual influencers to be created. The 19-year-old is the brainchild of LA-based startup Brud who specialise in artificial intelligence and robotics.
Shudu is the creation of photographer Cameron James-Wilson. Shudu signed a modelling contract with a digital supermodel agency TheDiigitals.com and joined the Balmain family as one of their latest models.
Just like Lil Miquela, Blawko has been created by LA-based Brud and describes himself as a ‘young robot sex symbol’ due to his streetwear style and tattoos.
Will we even know who's real and who's not in future? The stats here would suggest that it's likely to become a bigger point of discussion.