Computer-Generated Influence: The World of Virtual Influencers

Are you wondering what we mean by virtual influencers? If there’s any doubt in your mind, let’s clarify: we’re talking about full-fledged influencers with social media accounts, backstories, friends and collaborators. The only difference? These Instagram and Youtube influencers are 100% born of CGI.

Artists have been using digital technology to create fictional characters for films and television series for years. Video games are replete with CGI-created characters who have detailed personal histories and who advance through complicated stories, forming relationships with others and sometimes even going on journeys of self-discovery. 

With digital characters already so closely mimicking the human condition, it’s no shock that the trend eventually caught up with social media. As the role of the influencer grew in our society, artists and marketers saw an opportunity to experiment. Could fictional influencers function in the same way as their human counterparts?

Pros & cons of virtual influencers

According to DMEXCO, there are advantages and disadvantages to virtual influencers. They note that virtual influencers’ personalities and appearances can be molded to fit exactly what a brand wants. In addition, virtual influencers eliminate the risk of scandals, inappropriate comments and various types of human error. Their CGI DNA can also be easily blended with virtual elements or digital product data.

However, DMEXCO highlights that there are downsides to working with virtual influencers as well. It takes a long time to prepare their content. Graphic designers and animators have to plan, create and test everything before posting the final content. And, it’s expensive. Instead of a brand paying an influencer, and maybe their manager, they’re paying a team of digital artists to put everything together.

That being said, there are many concrete examples of virtual influencers and how they’ve been used in collaborations with brands. 

The top virtual influencers

Virtual influencers have been on the scene for a few years already. They’ve collaborated with fashion houses, sports teams, and some have even released their own music. Let’s take a look at a few of the most notable virtual influencers in 2020.

Lil Miquela

@lilmiquela is a 19-year-old virtual influencer from Los Angeles. She self-identifies as robot, even though her backstory also says she’s half-Brazilian and half-Spanish. Miquela has worked with brands like Calvin Klein, Jean Paul Gaultier and Prada. She’s also an aspiring musician who has songs available to stream on Spotify. Furthermore, Miquela has ‘met’ many celebrities, and Coachella even recruited her to interview some famous musicians like J. Balvin. 

Miquela is the child of Brud, an LA-based robotics and AI studio. She has a verified Instagram account with 2.8M followers.

Shudu

According to @shudu.gram’s Instagram account, she’s the “World’s First Digital Supermodel.” Shudu is managed by The Diigitals, an all-digital modeling agency. She’s the daughter of Cameron-James Wilson, a fashion photographer who wanted to explore a new virtual artform. Since her creation, Shudu has collaborated with high profile brands like Samsung, Swarovski, and Balmain.

Digital model Shudu, posing with a Samsung phone.

According to The Diigitals, Shudu “hopes to champion diversity in the fashion world, collaborate with creators from emerging economies and under-represented communities and get together with up-and-coming designers.” Not everyone is fond of her, though. Some critics argue that she takes potential jobs away from black models, or that she is a projection of black womanhood created by a white man.

Imma

imma.gram’s Instagram biography says she is a “virtual girl interested in Japanese culture, film and art.” Imma ‘lives’ in Tokyo and posts in both English and Japanese. Imma has met Japanese celebrities like Olympic canoer Takuya Haneda. She collaborates with brands like Adidas, La Perla, Burberry, and Ikea. 

Virtual influencers Imma, wearing an Adidas jacket, with Olympian Takuya Haneda

The pink-haired fashion and lifestyle influencer likes to spend her time visiting art galleries, modeling street style looks, and spending time with her boyfriend, virtual influencer @plusticboy. Both are the children of Aww Tokyo, a Japanese virtual human company.

Liam Nikuro

@liam_nikuro is the official virtual influencer of the NBA’s Washington Wizards. He was created by One Sec, an AI company with offices in Japan and LA. Perhaps inspired by his creators, Liam says he is half-Japanese and half-American. By human standards, Liam’s 14.6K Instagram followers would put him firmly into the micro influencer tier

Virtual influencer Liam Nikuro eating at In-N-Out Burger.

In addition to being the official virtual ambassador for the Wizards, Liam has collaborated with other brands. Burger chain In-N-Out, fashion label Acne, and sportswear brand Champion are just a few of the companies who have collaborated with him. Liam has been featured in Women’s Wear Daily and has met celebrities like Post Malone.

B

B is quite different from all the other influencers on this list. While all share the trait of being virtual, B is the only one who’s not designed to look like a human. She is, as you may have guessed, a bee!  @bee_nfluencer was created by the Fondation de France. Among its many causes, the foundation is working to save bees, which are disappearing more and more each year.

Virtual influencer B, trying on clothes from OBEY in Paris.

Although B was created to promote a cause, she has partnered with brands like OBEY Clothing, magazine Glamour, and cosmetics brand Burt’s Bees. In addition to posting about her collabs, she regularly shares information about her species, what’s causing them to disappear, and how we humans can help.

Conclusion

The above examples show that virtual influencers have been a hit with all types of brands, whether fast food chains, luxury fashion labels, professional sports teams, or technology giants. And these are just a few of the virtual influencers that are out there.

As they’re relatively new, it still remains to be seen if virtual influencers are here to stay. Will they gradually begin to replace human influencers, as many machines have replaced human workers in other sectors? Or will people start to get tired of their highly polished profiles, which could be said to lack authenticity. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Kate works on the Marketing team at Heepsy as a content writer. When she's not online she can be found traveling or trying out a new recipe.

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