You Can't Fake True: Why virtual influencers are no threat to you.

  @lilmiquela  shares photos and comments that are strikingly real. (Photo by  @lilmiquela )

@lilmiquela shares photos and comments that are strikingly real. (Photo by @lilmiquela)

Virtual influencers- CGI instagram accounts mimicking real people- are popping up all over social media.  These lifelike computer creations can be seen posting photos of themselves with celebrities, hanging out around town, and even promoting brands. An image of virtual influencer @shudu.gram wearing Rihanna's Feny lipstick actually went viral.  As these made-up influencers become more and more popular, some of us may wonder what's in store for those of us who were here first.  (By that, I mean humans.) 

Many of you might have followed the drama between fictional Instagram influencers @lilmiquela and @bermudaisbae. (And if you haven't you can check out the whole wild story out here.)  Brud, the company that created both of these CGI insta-celebrities orchestrated the drama primarily as a publicity stunt aimed at keeping their virtual influencers in the spotlight. 

And it makes sense. It's hard to stay in the spotlight!  There's a lot of competition out there and influencers have to put in really hard work in order to stay relevant, keep their followers' attention, attract brands, create quality content, and stay authentic. Honestly, just writing that was exhausting.  So I can understand the temptation to whip up some fictional drama just to stay on top.  Let's be honest, celebrities do it all the time.  But if the entire point of influencer marketing as about creating a more honest and direct way for brands to reach their people, then how do virtual influencers fit into the mix? 

For brands there are certain aspects of virtual influencers that are appealing.  For example, they can have a lot more control over content when dealing with someone who is basically a cartoon. There's also a perception the virtual influencers are less risky in terms of behavior; they're never going to do something in their private lives that could embarrass the brand.  (This logic falls short, however, when the people behind the virtual influencer create fictional drama for their own amusement.  But I digress...)  Brands can control the entire look and personality of the avatar, completely conforming it to the company's aesthetic.  There is even talk of brands creating their own fictional influencers solely dedicated to marketing their products. But doesn't this create the exact same problem for brands that existed before influencer marketing? Most likely, people will be just as quick to tune out a virtual influencer as a TV commercial or banner ad.  People are looking for authentic advice from personalities they trust, not advertising.  

The truth is, no matter how realistic they look or how carefully crafted their fictional story-lines, virtual influencers are no threat to human influencers.  You are trustworthy, honest, and- most importantly- real.  That is the quality that draws both audiences and brands to you and that, by definition, cannot be manufactured.   Social promotion will always be second to your story-telling and that is exactly why your promotions are so effective. 

I find virtual influencers very interesting as a sort of meta-commentary on social media and advertising in general.  There are provocative questions to be asked about the line between art and advertising, and I think- if we give the most generous interpretation- this is what companies like Brud are exploring.  But personally, I'm happy that I get to spend my days at Obviously. Like I said in my last post, we prefer to keep it real. And that's just how I like it. 

What's your opinion on virtual influencers? Sound off in the comments!

Emily BarozComment