VIRTUAL MODELS: THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS?

virtual influencers

“I won’t return your account unless you tell the world the truth.”

The month of April was all about Bermuda hacking the account of Lil Miquela, refusing to return the account to her unless she told the world her truth. The truth that she’s not human. But then, even Bermuda isn’t. If you haven’t already guessed it, they’re both CGI inventions that now take on the role of virtual influencers. 

But they aren’t the only ones. Shudu, who proclaimed herself as “the world’s first digital supermodel”, shot to fame when singer Rihanna’s makeup line, Fenty Beauty, reposted a picture of Shudu wearing the brand’s lipstick and nail polish. The virtual model’s account instantly saw an increase of almost 80,000 followers! The picture, however, no longer appears on the brand’s official Instagram page. It was taken down due to the backlash the post faced. 

Miquela, another CGI creation, is a 20-year old biracial (half Spanish, half Brazilian) girl who has quite a few achievements to her name: social media influencer, brand ambassador, activist and a musician. She raises awareness for transgender rights and also debuted as a singer last year, releasing her first single, Not Mine, that topped the charts of Spotify at no.8. Crazy, right?

SO, HOW DO VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS REPRESENT A BRAND?

Fashion houses have already jumped at the opportunity because you see, virtual influencers have huge money-making potential. The introduction of virtual models had brands immediately want to collaborate with them to exhibit their designs.

Miquela, for example, launched Prada’s spring collection and promoted brands like Diesel, Giphy, and Moncler, while Shudu grabbed the attention of Fenty Beauty and various other brands. It’s just like how human influencers collaborate with brands.

The only [big] difference is that everything is digitally created by a design team. 

WHAT’S IN IT FOR BRANDS? IS IT PROFITABLE FOR THEM?

In terms of control and cost, it’s a definite yes. Virtual influencers give brands (well, their design team) the artistic freedom to design a campaign as per their convenience and specifications. Brands, instead of having to go around looking for influencers that would fit their descriptions, can now have their design team create a virtual model to do the same. The advantage is that they have complete control over the process and representation of these virtual creations. Since the model is computer-generated, it saves the company loads of time, granting them the ability to alter the creation’s appearance to suit the brand’s day-to-day social media requirements.

One day your model is posing in front of the Eiffel Tower wearing Gucci and the next day she’s wearing Prada, taking over the streets of New York. All this without having to physically leave the country or pay the exorbitant amount. You can have a model represent any religion, ethnicity, and culture. Features like height, weight, and even skin tone can now change to accommodate the various beauty standards, by the mere click of a button.

In addition to this, companies do not have to worry about controversies related to questionable remarks made on social media, dark past, etc. when it comes to virtual influencers. Introduced into the market with information provided solely by their creators – there is no room for false accusations, controversies or criticisms.

You can do all this within the premises of your office. And, let me tell you, the time and money that companies save through this is so significant that I doubt anyone will have second thoughts on creating virtual models for their brands.

But, just like everything, having virtual influencers promote your brand has its disadvantages, which takes us to the next point.

IS IT REALLY A BOON? OR A WELL-DISGUISED CURSE?

One cannot deny that the introduction of CGI creations/virtual models, although opened a new area of possibilities, has blurred the lines that set fiction apart from reality. Because come to think of it, how can you convince people to buy a product when it’s on someone who doesn’t even exist?

A virtual model, for example, is not able to emote the difference between a good quality shirt from a bad one since they are not real people and for the same reason do not “physically” try on clothes/products, making it hard to convince people that the product fulfills its claims.

For instance, Shudu posted a picture on her Instagram wearing lipstick and nail polish by Fenty Beauty. No matter how established Fenty is as a brand, what consumers want to know is if the products truly live up to the hype or not. And a virtual model, unfortunately, cannot clear these doubts. Reviews, if given, wouldn’t be theirs but of their creators, losing the very purpose of an influencer in the first place.

But then again, how many of us show our true selves on social media without any filters, blur tools or any other form of manipulations?

DO THE RULES THAT BOUND HUMAN INFLUENCERS ALSO APPLY TO VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission handed out letters to influencers stating that they expect influencers to specify when a post is sponsored or paid. Although the FTC does not have guidelines specifically for CGI influencers yet, they have stated that posts involving CGI have to be clearly identified as an advertisement. An easier approach to this would be to disclose in the caption that the post features a CGI influencer.

Instagram’s new feature has the label “paid partnership” placed below the influencer’s username where the location tag is usually seen.  Influencers are now required to disclose any partnerships, collaborations and paid advertisements on their posts, using the paid partnership title along with the #ad and #sponsored in their captions.

However, it all goes back to the concerns we raised about whether product and service reviews by CGI influencers can be taken into account, since they are not by real humans, questioning the authenticity of the opinion. We are yet to see if the FTC will update its guidelines to incorporate CGI influencers but, for the time-being, it seems like they are to follow the rules that bound human influencers. 

With everything said and done, what is your take on virtual models/CGI creations becoming the new face of social media influencers? We cannot overlook the fact that a shift in power has already taken place. Shudu and Miquela’s introduction has created a stir, gaining the likes of the public in a very short span of time.

Is it really just a matter of time we see more Shudus and Miquelas taking over the internet and maybe influencing, as a whole?

 

 

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