The Rise of A.I. Influencers and What To Expect in 2021
**Originally published November 6th, 2019. Updated May 25th, 2021**
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with one of the internet’s growing stars, meet Lil Miquela. Much like many of today’s social media influencers, Miquela posts photos of herself sporting designer clothing, with carefully framed snapshots and cleverly articulated captions. This millennial formula has been popularized in recent years to drive attention to your account and engage an audience in an attempt to grow your brand and garner social relevancy in the media-driven rat race.
She currently has 3 million followers on her Instagram account and is an advocate for social change, as an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. She’s partnered with the iconic fashion brand Prada for Milan Fashion Week. And she’s even released a few songs on Spotify. In 2020, she signed a contract with the talent agency CAA. Quite the accomplishment for a 19-year-old model from Downey, California who only launched her Instagram profile in 2016. But, until April of last year, she was keeping a secret…
In one of her posts last year in April, she broke the news; she wasn’t a real person. “I am not a human being,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I’m a robot.”
The Rise of the A.I. Influencer
Before the actual announcement took place, there was already much debate and conversation around whether Miquela was a real person or not. Her porcelain smooth skin and articulately cultivated photo shots led many to question if she was indeed an actual human being. So naturally, when the truth was revealed and the account creators had played coy for many months on Miquela’s true identity, people were curious about who she really was. If she wasn’t a person, what exactly was she? A robot as she proclaimed in her unveiling of sorts? Well, for all intents and purposes, yes.
Though her followers see and know her as a trendy young woman with freckles, Kardashian-Esque big lips, and her trademark double bun hairstyle, she is essentially a digital creation of today’s prototypical social celebrity. Miquela is a computer-generated image (CGI) created by a Los Angeles-based startup called Brud. The company specializes in artificial intelligence and robotics. And their apparent analytical approach can be seen in the numbers. The rapid growth of Miquela’s social media following speaks for itself in its marketing effectiveness.
And it isn’t some generic approach to ‘mass appeal by scale’ (for lack of a better term). They got granular in their areas of focus. They strategically decided upon their target demographic and executed a well-implemented social presence. Miquela was formulaic in approach but never predictable. In fact, until her recent reveal, it can be justly argued that she was even a bit mysterious. But that was part of the appeal. The multi-faceted data that goes into determining successful marketing can be overwhelming, though invisible to the naked eye of the general public.
According to TechCrunch, Brud is backed by venture capital firms like Sequoia Capital, BoxGroup, and SV Angel, though this claim has yet to be confirmed after media sources such as CNN News have reached out for verification and have yet to receive such confirmation.
But Miquela isn’t the only one of her kind. She is just one of the more popular personalities on an ever-expanding list of artificially created social media stars who are changing the narrative around the future of the online celebrity. One such influencer is Shudu, a supermodel whose likeness strongly resembles that of modeling legends such as Alek Wek and Grace Jones. She is known as the world’s first “digital” supermodel. But in all actuality, she is a digital 3D rendering of a human created about a year ago, by London-based fashion photographer Cameron James Wilson. Shudu, he said, was largely inspired by a Princess of South Africa Barbie doll, and was meant to be a creative outlet “that was free from the input of other people” and “an exploration of [his] own views and exploring [his] creativity.”
This new and evolving form of influencer is certainly garnering both interest and intrigue from an ecosystem of online celebrities and their audiences. But this new version of internet star is beginning to generate conversation around the notion that these are not simply outlier successes, but more a pioneer of a new archetype; a lens into the future of what tomorrow’s population of social media stars could be comprised of – influencers engineered from artificial intelligence. Seems like an idea ripped from the pages of an apocalyptic science fiction novel. Or a storyline from a television series like Westworld. The hit Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’ has touched upon this subject with eerily similar storylines to those unfolding in front of our eyes. One such episode centered around the idea that social currency would one day be the primary currency of our culture.
The prediction of such a future is believed by some to be an all-too-real possibility. Are we just in the infancy of a growing trend that could change the way we see status, celebrity, and social influence online for years to come? Or are we opening a Pandora’s box of questionable moral humanity with every step we take towards a future comprised of digitally engineered personalities? CNN did a wonderful piece on this very subject and Miquela herself. We highly suggest checking out their introspective take below:
As an influencer marketing agency, you might imagine that we are incredibly intrigued by this topic. Oftentimes, because we are also an influencer talent agency, we are asked whether we help influencers grow their audience and thus their influence. Typically no, we don’t actually. But it’s something we have to take on a case-by-case basis. If we could artificially create an influencer that people resonate with and grow to adore would we? Should we? The jury is still out on that one.
What Do A.I. Influencers Mean for the Future?
One of the newest examples of an AII is Yumi, the digital spokesperson for SKII. The Japanese skincare line created a fully digital AI bot to be a social media influencer for their brand. Yumi posts high-quality images and skincare routine videos, and (as an exclusive influencer) is a direct extension of the SK-II brand.
So what do influencers like Yumi mean for AI influencers in the future? Being that Yumi is controlled exclusively by the SK-II brand. That means she can be made to say and sell anything her creators want. Because of her ability to flawlessly mimic the role of a human influencer, she yields the same scope of power over her followers. But the most crucial part of this is that Yumi is devoted to one brand, forever.
Whispers have been heard in marketing circles that more brands will be looking to complement their existing influencer programs with CGI influencers. Control over content is a key benefit of a digital influencer, as opposed to having their human counterparts sharing their personal views. You also all but eliminate the possibility of an opinionated influencer creating social controversy. Simply put, AI influencers allow for the relationship to be more easily controlled.
They can also perform tasks and operate at a fraction of the cost as their oxygen-breathing counterparts. Considering the immense amount of control brands have over what these synthetic influencers can do and say, it seems inevitable that more and more brands will begin to design and implement their own. We think it’s safe to say that the AI influencer is here to stay.