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  • Rohan Mukherjee

What are CGI influencers, and are they any good?

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Understanding a new world of non-human influencers and data-driven personalities.




Follow, like, tap or swipe Here are bots that talk and type!

If you’re an online celebrity or influencer, and a living-breathing human one - you might want to watch out for this going trend. Or, humans will have lost another pointless occupation to machines.

Dictionaries are facing the busiest of days in this era where an already existing word is borrowed by the internet, and overpowered by the social media definition of the same word. Think of web, viral, mouse, meme, troll, tag. Yep, hard to digest but these are words that actually existed before the advent of internet, right?

But the word we’re focusing on in this story is ‘influencer’. This is how Oxford Dictionary defines it:

Influencer

/noun

1. A person or thing that influences another.

But, rather than evoking memories of a person, trip, film, or book that had a somewhat profound impact on you, this word now translates into pictures of a 20-something girl on Instagram telling you about the newest trends in fashion, while trying to sell you a lip balm that she swears is the best she has ever used, for the 3rd time in the last 5 months. You know you’ve seen it.


It's not just in fashion - these social media influencers are everywhere! They're telling you how to workout, which weight loss tea to buy, what to eat, where to go on a holiday, which phone to buy, how to better your personality, so on and so forth. In fact, this thing is so big, that the Instagram Influencer Market alone was a whopping $1.7 billion in the US in 2017.

Why? Because we have subscribed to the idea of a handful of people telling us what to wear and where to eat than deciding it ourselves by trying.


But that’s not new - if you consider celebrity brand sponsors, this has been happening ever since advertisement existed. But for brands, the influencer marketing program is one of the key strategies of communicating to customers. Since people follow them closely, brands see lifestyle influencers as a channel through which they can sell their products to existing customers, or reach out to new ones. It's almost like your friend trying to persuade you to try LSD by telling you that Steve Jobs did it, almost. And if you were the kind that gave in because you wanted to become like Steve Jobs, you're just the person that these weight-loss tea companies are looking for.


All was well in the world as long as influencers were humans. What? Did we come across extraterrestrial life? Hurray! Well, sorry to disappoint, but not yet, we haven't (not that we know of). We're talking about the kind of influencers that aren't human, but created by humans. CGI influencers, or computer generated 'models' is the next big trend in influencer marketing. Yeah, it's a bit difficult to comprehend because, why would people want to take fashion advice from a... 3D character? As it turns out, people are interested in taking advice from a CGI influencer, as many as 1 million of them.


Lil Miquela is one such CGI influencer, the first one of them (at least in fashion) who has more than a million followers on Instagram. If you hold your phone about 2.5 feet away from your eyes (which is the average length of a human arm), squint your eyes a bit, and browse through Lil Miquela's Instagram feed, you'd see your everyday fashionista who stays downtown and likes her Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte every morning. But, if you see her 'photos' up close, you'd notice the unnatural smoothness of her skin, photoshop-textured freckles, and plastic eyes that are as real as a Barbie doll's. Yet, this doesn't stop Lil Miquela from influence people's opinions, apparently. Brud, a startup based in Los Angeles that works in AI and robotics, is known to be the creator of Miquela, launching her successfully on social media in 2016.


However, Lil Miquela is not just a fashion influencer. She's also a musician (with a song on Spotify), an activist (she wrote a letter to Congress), a celebrity (giving interviews), and a digital marketer (running Prada's Spring/Summer 2018 Instagram campaign). Being such a multitasker is not that easy, even for a human being. But, Miquela seems to be a hard worker. Especially after she 'announced' that she was no longer 'associated' with the agency Brud, and had chosen to work on her own. The disassociation doesn't seem all that bad for Miquela since she has been getting partnership offers from brands such as Prada, Giphy, Pat McGrath, and a few others. But, there seems to be just one problem. On what basis do you take someone's recommendation about food, clothes, or a smartphone seriously, especially when the person who's recommending, is nothing more than a computer-generated character?


Top Gun turned Tom Cruise into an influencer much before the golden age of the internet. So much, that Ray Ban Aviators' sales went up 40% after the movie released. 2018 ain't no age of Tom Cruise, it's the age of influencers like Lil Miquela. And she isn't alone, there are more like her - Alex Hunter, Shudu, Bermuda - and Michaela

Michaela waas uncovered to be a biracial (half Brazilian, half Spanish), 20-year-old social media influencer, in their Zeitgeist 2018 Presentation - who happens to be a virtual celebrity, a musician to be exact, who has released a debut single on Spotify. The track “Not Mine” reached the eighth spot on their viral list in August 2017.


In addition to that, Michaela also has a human boyfriend as well as human friends. She updates her followers on her activities, which pretty much includes flying drones at a fashion show, or heralding the Instagram campaign for Prada’s Spring/Summer collection. She’s even written to Congress in the US to raise awareness about transgender rights and to push for change. She’s an activist, a model and a brand ambassador, and she’s also had interviews done by several publications. In a Business of Fashion piece. she refers to herself as an artist who earns a living via music and modelling.


The difference between Michaela and the other CGI influencers mentioned above, is that she appears to relate to others independently of her creator, who chooses to remain anonymous. With an awesome 838k followers on Instagram, people evidently find her interesting and are able to relate to her and that’s why brands like Pat McGrath have asked her to endorse their products. Even though the details of how and why she was created are shrouded in mystery, she’s given us a glimpse of a future where CGI Influencers can and will go.


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