With over a billion social media users worldwide, it is more difficult than ever for brands to break through the noise, but the social media influencer has proven very effective.
Over the last ten years, brands’ investments in influencer marketing have been increasing rapidly. Which comes as no surprise; results of this study proves that influencer-promoted ad content garners remarkably higher engagement than brand-promoted ad content on Instagram.
At Kaitoma, we’ve also been investigating the increasingly important role of the influencer: In May, we reported that the reason why influencer marketing became successful in the first place, was because people were telling an authentic story about their interaction with brands.
One can say that the social media influencer has become a kind of micro-celebrity who maintains their popularity by managing their audience, their fan base, with a certain narrative. And that the influencer’s self is invented with the consumption of this image by others in mind; the influencer has a distinct type of visual self-presentation strategy – created with the online attention economy in mind. To sustain this self-commodification; influencers rely on feedback from their audience. The feedback provided on the platform is data that represents comments, likes, and followers. But at the same time, this data also reflects the input of the platform’s algorithm. The technology behind an artificial intelligent (AI) influencer has the potential to use this data – to essentially – become compliant by design. When it follows popular content on a platform, it can tailor content towards the trends to increase engagement.
Meet the new faces of the influencer marketing industry, except they’re not actual human faces they’re digitally engineered faces. And these hyper-real, synthetic stars of sorts are changing the billion-dollar global influencer marketing industry as we know it.
Computer-generated brand ambassadors are collaborations between artificial intelligence and digital artistry; Some companies are developing their influencers from scratch, creating a fictional character that they can exercise full control over. This reduces the risk of negative feedback and saves time looking for the right human influencer.
This is Shudu, a beautiful 20s-something model from South Africa, 100% computer-generated, and known as the world’s first digital supermodel. Created in 2017, using modelling software Daz3D, Shudu’s creator, London-based visual artist Cameron-James Wilson, said in a CNBC interview that Shudu was inspired by the Princess of South Africa-Barbie Doll. He also says that creating these hyper-realistic images is a labour-intensive process that can take days to complete.
In an interview with CNBC Wilson said: “It was kind of a testament to my skill that people didn’t know that she (Shudu) was real or not, and you know I would kind of gauge how maybe well [sic] I had done depending on the comments on the image.“
Considering they are never late, don’t have fancy diets to cater to, are always available, and can be moulded to a personality that matches the brand, these virtual ambassadors (and ideal employees) have unleashed a growing trend in influencer marketing.
Shudu was part of Balmain’s New Virtual Army campaign in 2018, along with two other CGI models, Margot and Zhi. Shudu’s creator even started a dedicated modelling agency for digital models called The Diigitals.
Lil Miquela has 2.8 million followers on Instagram and has partnered with the iconic fashion brands Prada, Calvin Klein, and Chanel, she’s even released a couple of songs on Spotify, with music videos on YouTube. Not bad for a 19-year-old freckly Brazilian model from California who only launched her Instagram profile four years ago.
Miquela was created by LA-based, transmedia studio, Brud – which is valued at $125 million.
With the coronavirus lockdown, the virtual influencer story took another interesting turn, when WHO commissioned Influential (another LA-based studio), to secure the services of Knox Frost, a digitally engineered personality of a 20-year-old from Atlanta, with almost a million followers on Instagram.
According to Elma Beganovich of Amra & Elma, these virtual social media influencers are not a passing novelty, but “a genuine game-changer, with millions and followers and A-list clients”. She also goes on to say that AI is a turning point because now brands can target their ideal audience with precision, and speak to them directly.
One of the main benefits of these CGI influencers is control over the content – it mediates the possibility of an opinionated influencer creating social controversy.
Yumi was created by New Zealand-based startup Soul Machines, who specialise in building digital humans who look, sound, and move as real ones do. She was designed for the Japanese beauty brand SK-II – and she enabled them to respond to users’ queries 24/7, without having to hire a large team of subject matter experts to handle customer care. Yumi can handle most tasks more efficiently and is also a lot more cost-effective. She is both an influencer and customer service agent.
Yumi is a dedicated brand bot, unlike Miquela, who uses her influence to promote her own brand, as well as many other brands which she gets paid to promote. Miquela is essentially a digital creation of today’s prototypical social celebrity.
Some believe that with the recent advancements in the AI influencer space, companies like Brud run the risk of getting sidelined because platforms essentially profit through users because of the data they can collect (and generate).
But Cameron-James Wilson sees a future for all and doesn’t believe these digital influencers spell the end for their living breathing counterparts (in front or behind the scenes). Instead, he says, real people could have a 3D counterpart which could help them create an income, without actually having to do the work.
One thing is for sure, these digital humans are geared for future business and offer a powerful new way for brands to engage with their customers.
List of references:
Investigating Consumer Engagement with Influencer- vs. Brand-Promoted Ads: The Roles of Source and Disclosure [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15252019.2019.1667928 [Accessed 28 November 2020].
A.I. Influencers: Preaching to the Choir? [online] Available at: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/blog/2019/09/22/a-i-influencers-preaching-to-the-choir/ [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Lil Miquela And The Rise Of Digital Models [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig8ZnFt3UPA [Accessed 28 November 2020].
The Impact Of Artificial Intelligence On Influencer Marketing [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2020/06/22/the-impact-of-artificial-intelligence-on-influencer-marketing/?sh=51b1517d17a2 [Accessed 28 November 2020].