There’s a breed of stars who are making waves in the world of influencer marketing. But here’s the catch: They do not breathe, they do not have any heartbeat; they are not flesh and blood.
In short, they are not humans.
So who — or rather what — are they?
They are now what we know as computer-generated imagery or CGI influencers. Many also call this group of stars as virtual influencers.
What Exactly Are CGI Influencers?
CGI influencers may just be mere digital images, but there’s more to that than meets the eye.
Just like their human counterparts, CGI influencers have a carefully curated presence online. They have a huge following and are also aware of trending topics.
As computer-manufactured imaginative characters, CGI influencers are altered to look, act, and speak however brands want them to do. They mirror their human counterparts all the time, but the images they are projecting can get more glamorous. Just look at their HD selfies on Instagram. Sometimes though, their social media feeds can look too good to be true.
CGI influencers also appear in different races or ethnicities, genders, and body types.
Everything that CGI influencers do is a product of long hours of meeting among social media managers, programmers, and designers that are working behind the scenes to bring these influencers to life.
Say Hello to Lil Miquela
Perhaps the most prominent CGI influencer to date is Lil Miquela. Racking up three million followers on Instagram, she calls herself a “19-year-old robot living in LA.”
And her lifestyle, as she projects it on social media, can be anybody’s envy.
Well, she hangs out with a number of celebrities including the Chainsmokers. Sometimes, she’s just enjoying the sun while reading a bestselling book.
In true influencer fashion, Lil Miquela has also been championing some causes.
And just like a regular influencer, Lil Miquela also takes some time to update her army of followers about her personal life.
In one post, she opened up about her on-and-off boyfriend whom she calls “angel boi.”
Lil Miquela, who is officially known as Miquela Sosa, debuted on Instagram in 2016. In 2018, she was named as among the most influential people on the internet by no less than Time Magazine.
In the writeup, Time wrote that Lil Miquela “has all the makings of an Instagram ingenue, from the effortless good looks to the philosophy-lite selfie captions”
Lil Miquela is the product of an entity called Cain Intelligence, before being taken over by LA-based computer software firm Brud.
It was Brud that thrust her into the spotlight by staging a fake hijacking of her account by CGI rival Bermuda.
And after the fake incident, the forever 19-year-old Avatar opened up about her origins.
“I am a robot. It just doesn’t sound right. I feel so human. I cry and I laugh and I dream. I fall in love,” she wrote.
CGI Influencers Are a Hit For Brands
Nearly six years since she debuted online, Lil Miquela has already worked with a lot of brands; many of them big ones.
She has already collaborated with Prada and Diesel, and has appeared on the pages of top magazines such as GQ and Vogue.
In 2019, she was featured in a Calvin Klein ad where she kissed with supermodel Gigi Hadid. That may have drawn some criticism, but it surely boosted her online presence more. Publicity, may it be good or bad, is publicity, after all.
Yes, you may call their existence fake but you cannot deny that their influence is real. And in fact, a study by social entertainment company Fullscreen found that CGI influencers have the ability to directly influence consumers’ buying behavior. Take a look at this table:
Fullscreen surveyed more than 500 13 to 34 year olds who followed CGI influencers. More than half of those who followed these virtual stars made a purchase, attended an event, followed a brand, or researched a brand product.
But why are brands increasingly contracting the services of CGI influencers?
Industry leaders say novelty can be a factor. A brand that works with a virtual influencer can land on the feed of many social media uses and can hog headlines too.
Brands are not also worried about the work ethics of CGI influencers and in the process, it can be more convenient for them. How so? Well, it means that brands won’t have to work with real people who can — let’s face it — be difficult to deal with.
But what could be the most compelling reason why more and more companies are banking on CGI influencers?
Well, it’s complete control. CGI influencers can be easily manipulated and they will never go off-script. As we have mentioned, they are programmed to say and do things in online spaces in ways that brand marketers want them to do. It’s also way a lot easier for brands — and the creators of the CGI influencers themselves — to control the narrative about the digital character.
Keeping It Real: Is Authenticity in Limbo?
Companies intend these CGI influencers to appear real.
Besides Lil Miquela, we can also take a look at the creations of the The Digiitals, which dubs itself as the world’s first modeling agency for virtual celebs.
Its website features seven digital models. Four of them have been constructed as black through their skin color and other physical features.
One of them is Shudu, who was developed to look like a dark-skinned woman. In one of her posts, she sported a pair of earrings in the shape of Africa.
Like a human influencer, Shudu champions for diversity, which is undoubtedly commendable.
However, this may just be on the surface level as CGi influencers can be easily manipulated or altered to suit the wishes of brands. Primarily, it can be said that CGI influencers serve to advertise and make money devoid of any emotions. On the other hand, human influencers have that authenticity that exists behind and beyond the screen.
Will CGI Influencers Replace Human Influencers?
The rise of CGI influencers poses a few delicate questions.
First, will they survive in the long run?
Truth be told, the answer to this is that, nobody knows for now. We have to remember that CGI influencers are still in their early stage and brands continue to experiment on strategies using their services.
Now, will they replace human influencers?
Experts say no. The trends may be growing but at the end of the day, human influencers, with their emotions, can easily connect with their audiences. Humans are imperfect, yes, but there’s something magical and interesting in following or watching how humans live their lives — something that cannot be said of CGI influencers.
Industry leaders have also said that CGI avatars are never meant to replace human influencers. They are created to enrich and enhance campaigns or services or to help human influencers in their projects. In the end, human influencers and their CGI counterparts can coexist.
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