What Are CGI Influencers? Meet Instagram's Virtual Models
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What Is A CGI Influencer?
CGI stands for “computer-generated imagery.” Put simply, it’s the process of creating pictures through the use of computers. Currently, this technology is being applied to create eerily realistic CGI Instagram models. Because CGI influencers operate as robots or artificial intelligence, they are virtual social media influencers.
By now we’re all comfortable with the notion of social media influencers of all kinds. From fashion bloggers to tech vloggers to monkeys and pigs to funky grandmas, nearly every facet of life seems to be covered in one form or another through online influencers. If you’re not surprised by a Bahamian raccoon having picked up 1.5 million followers on Instagram, then you’re probably not surprised by much—or so you would think.
That is because none other than CGI influencers, or virtual influencers, are roaming the world of social media and making big impressions on what would otherwise be considered a market for sentient beings.
Where Do CGI Influencers Come From? Virtual Instagram Models
CGI influencers have been appearing more frequently since 2016, typically starting out as art projects before ballooning in popularity in 2018. LA-based startup Brud is responsible for three virtual influencers (Lil Miquela, Blawko, and Bermuda), while the trend is also being brought to life by 3D art creators in London and Tokyo within the fashion industry.
CGI influencers are almost exclusively models, with their online presences resembling what you’d expect from fashion influencers. They often have complex fictional backgrounds and even have "feuds" with each other, piquing the interest of the general public as well as the mainstream media, who are more than happy to delve into the ensuing drama between them.
How Do People Feel About CGI Influencers?
Most interesting of all is the industry reaction to them. Far from being reticent, some brands are clamoring for the opportunity to work with CGI influencers. Brud’s “Lil Miquela,” for instance, has promoted designer clothing. All the while, Brud has raised $6 million to continue its project.
Within the social media community, the reactions have been—well, mixed. One only needs to scroll through the comments of the virtual influencers’ Instagram posts to witness a frenzy unfold. Some appear to treat the virtual influencers like any other human social media user or influencer, while others take to the comments to troll. Still, others are just plain baffled on whether or not they are real or fake.
The combination of elusiveness and bluntness is a recipe for both confusion and endless entertainment, but also leaves us humans to question what kind of influence virtual influencers have on us. To determine that, we introduce you to four distinguished CGI influencers who you can start following today:
Getting To Know Four CGI Influencers
Lil Miquela is far and away the most prominent CGI influencer, with a staggering 1.5 million followers on Instagram. She is Brud’s golden tech child. Created in 2016, Miquela’s popularity is unmatched and has caused a virtual quake, being named in Time’s Most Influential People on the Internet and picking up brand sponsorships with firms like Barneys, Outdoor Voices, and Ugg. Amidst this emerging trend, Miquela has set the bar high.
Despite concerns of mass deception, Miquela has charmed the hearts of many through seemingly real-life, down-to-earth Instagram posts that capture her personal “feelings” on politics, social issues, work life, and relationships with both real people and fellow CGI influencers. She documents her life in a way that makes it indiscernible from that of a real human—other than her frequent commentary about being a robot.
As followers keep up with her daily happenings, it’s easy to forget Miquela’s intricately woven virtual world is not real at all. Yet, she has ascended as an advocate of AI, cultural movements, civil rights, music, and fashion.
Bermuda is another of Brud’s creations, designed to be a "rival" to Miquela with a backstory of her own. Bermuda boasts a smaller but still substantial following of 125,000 on Instagram with the tagline "Mogul. Robot. Friend." The profile of Bermuda has been boosted via her political views and relationship with Miquela.
While controversial initially, “Bermie,” as Miquela refers to her, has become both a close friend and mentor to Miquela. Like Miquela, Bermuda is a proponent of organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, claiming she supports bodily autonomy—a claim potentially foreboding her own autonomy.
Blawko was created by Brud as Bermuda’s on-off boyfriend and boasts a similar Instagram following of 135,000. He also has a YouTube channel, where he uploads vlogs every week. Though both Bermuda and Blawko are popular, neither has reached the height of Miquela.
A look through Blawko’s Instagram feed reveals a noticeable difference in candor and interests compared to Brud’s other two creations. Perhaps borderline crass, Blawko brings an uncanny “human” element to his social media content. He also holds similar views to Miquela and Bermuda on certain political and cultural issues.
Shudu was created by London-based photographer Cameron-James Wilson, who has seen his creation’s following on Instagram rocket to 157,000 followers in under two years. Billed as the “World’s First Digital Supermodel,” she has attracted partnerships with luxury fashion house Balmain and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty.
While Shudu does not appear to engage in the same virtual world of Brud’s CGI influencers, she has spawned several other CGI Instagram models, including Perl, Brenn, Imma, Galaxia, and Koffi. As a 3D character herself, Shudu has put 3D art projects in the spotlight and has collaborated with real supermodels to round out her modeling career.
Why Do Brands Work With CGI Influencers? The Benefits of Virtual Instagram Models
CGI influencers present a new dynamic for the influencer marketing industry, offering several advantages to brands interested in testing out virtual influencers. Below are a few reasons brands might collaborate with CGI influencers:
Whereas real-life influencers are limited by variables such as photography skills and modeling ability, digital creations are entirely adaptable, capable of being molded into any promotional capacity the brand and creator desire.
Control Over Brand Safety
With the ability to dictate the influencer’s persona and image, this lessens the chances of embarrassment for the brand with unwanted words or a controversial past—issues that frequently beset social media influencers. It’s worth noting, of course, that Brud has utilized its CGI influencers’ images for precisely the reason of controversy and fame through notoriety, so it can be a two-way street in that regard. Essentially, the more creative control, the more marketers can ensure brand safety.
Authenticity & Relatability
Much of the appeal of virtual influencers lies in their authenticity and relatability—if audiences didn’t buy into them as viable influencers alongside human social media presences then the concept would struggle to get off the ground. It is, in fact, a mixture of the lifelike depictions of them and the personalities cultivated for them by their creators that allows for their popularity to grow. They are presented as having social and political bents and being proud robots, an opinion which is a source of inspiration rather than derision.
Gen Z & Millennial Audiences
CGI influencers are proving to be excellent at reaching out to Millenials and Gen Z audiences, who are typically the most coveted target demographic for brands involving themselves in influencer marketing. That young audiences have so enthusiastically taken to supporting this virtual venture is encouraging for brands seeking new avenues of social media marketing.
Lingering Questions About CGI Influencers Within The Social Media Space
While offering a slew of benefits, CGI influencers have raised doubts about their impact on society, especially as it relates to consumers. Here we explore valid concerns around virtual influencers:
Blurry Lines Between Real & Fake
The first and most obvious issue with CGI influencers is the blurred lines they have created between themselves and human influencers. Lil Miquela was only revealed to be CGI two years after she first appeared, while questions have been raised about the ethics of creating virtual influencers—fake personalities with very real influence over potentially unsuspecting followers.
CGI influencers have relationships with other robots, espouse political views, participate in activism, create songs, and upload YouTube videos. They are, for all intents and purposes, alive personalities but audiences have obstructed means to see the real-life creative force behind them.
Noncompliance With FTC Guidelines
Further complications arise from CGI influencers not complying with FTC guidelines, which have been tightened on human influencers after several years of not disclosing sponsored posts to fans. While some, such as Noonoouri, have included the #ad tag the way a human would, a cursory glance at other accounts shows that the rules likely aren’t followed by all. Given that transparency has been an ongoing issue for influencers, it is perhaps in the best interests of CGI influencers to play by the same rules as their human counterparts.
Tricking people to believe something is real or true on Instagram and other social platforms is already common, be it through hyper-edited photos, failure to disclose sponsored posts, or the use of fake followers. The use of CGI influencers has to be measured; as what works for some companies might not for others, particularly for brands openly using robot influencers with audiences less willing to accept their authenticity.
Are CGI Influencers Here To Stay?
How CGI influencers are handled by their creators from here on out will be crucial to their future use. Brud’s initial intentions were likely a mixture of social experiment—not dissimilar from Mediakix’s own experiment with a fake Instagram influencer—and fun, which they clearly have with the project.
Brud’s three creations have frequently expressed strong political views and held stances on social issues, while Shudu’s creator has got in hot water for the very principle of his creation—it’s worth noting that this criticism has typically surfaced in the mainstream press, while fans generally seem unconcerned.
Likewise, followers seem disinterested in the wider debate of the existence of CGI influencers and are supportive of them and their causes, personalities, and stories. Whether to carry out innovative art projects or conduct social experiments, creators appear to show no hesitation in sustaining their CGI influencers.
What Do CGI Influencers Mean For Influencer Marketing?
The surging popularity of CGI influencers is sure to bring the wider influencer marketing industry under the microscope, particularly with regard to Instagram’s branded content policy and questions about the transparency and authenticity of virtual personalities.
This is especially significant as Gen Z and Millennial audiences are following trends set by influencers—a group to which robots can claim via proxy to be a part. Virtual influencers will continue to ride this trendsetting wave so long as they remain authentic to audiences and provide them with a human connection.
As CGI influencers increase their market share on social media, the FTC will likely have to adjust their guidelines to accommodate them, although FTC guidelines technically already apply to them.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that CGI influencers will take over their human counterparts. The novelty factor is an enormous boost for most social media robots, and their current popularity with fans and brands could well mark out an enduring spot for them within the influencer marketing industry.
via Mediakix | Influencer Marketing Agency
February 11, 2019 at 11:20AM