Digital Influencers are Us (And that leads to lots of questions).

Digital Influencers are Us (And that leads to lots of questions).


By Erna Adelson



I set out to write a piece about virtual influencers and inevitably ended up asking a lot of questions.



But before we get to those, a brief history of CGI influencers:


Lil Miquela, a Brazilian-American model and musician who lives in LA, was the first to arrive on the virtual scene, around 2 years ago. Blawko.22 presents as male, and is a streetwear and video game enthusiast with facial tattoos. Bermuda, a basic, right-wing white girl, plays the antagonist to Miquela and Blawko and now seems to be dating Blawko. (Bermuda reminds me of Heidi Montag, which is fitting since Heidi actually did try to become a replicant). The African-supermodel inspired Shudu is “an art project,” who occupies the world of high fashion.


Lil Miquela & Co. have been the subject of speculation, controversy, and no shortage of thinkpieces already. I recommend the ones in New York Magazine, BOF, and The New Yorker to dive deeper.



So, who created them?


The short story is that Miquela, Blawko and Bermuda were created by LA-based Brud. Shudu was conceived by British photographer Cameron-James Wilson.


However, anyone who’s been savvy enough to make a living off of their digital images - influencers, as we know them - is to some extent, virtual. And for that matter, anyone, ahem, who uses social media has created a primitive avatar. We see a tiny fraction of the actual person on the other side of the screen, and what we do see has often been edited. We, in many ways, paved the way for the fully digitized version of ourselves.



So, will they replace flesh and blood influencers?


British Vogue concluded that humans will prevail over holograms because they are also physical, and well, human. Humans like to see humans with flaws, the magazine purports. However, we are fully aware of the fact that Miquela consists of words and images only, and yet we acknowledge her influence. In fact, it seems like we even embrace the fact that digital influencers are transparently creations, since we don’t have to wonder about the imperfections and personal struggles that they hide, offscreen. They, are, in some ways more real….


That being said, I don’t believe that this is the end of human models or influencers. After all, creators draw inspiration directly from the behavior they observe. I just think that the truly virtual influencers offer something that humans don’t: We don’t resent them for their Instagram success, because they don’t directly benefit from our attention. And, what’s the use in trolling them? They don’t have feelings... right?



What does this mean for brands and marketers?


Whether or not there’s an endgame at stake for their creators or they are simply the products of brilliant minds, the only conclusion to draw from the rise of digitally rendered influencers is that this is an early phase of what’s to come. The technology is already starting to spread, so we could be mere years from the day when it’s democratized enough so that everyone has an avatar (see Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse, or Ready Player One). And where there’s an audience, brands and products will appear, too. Given the relatively short time that it took Miquela and her counterparts to gain acceptance and a following, it seems that humans are primed for further integration of their physical and virtual worlds. I would argue that partnering with Shudu was as important for Fenty as it was for Shudu. So as a marketer, I would watch and listen for the chance to seize that moment. Or, look for ways to create one.



Other things to consider:


If brands had avatars, what would they look like?


What would my avatar look like?


Will there be virtual babies?


Will virtual influencers age?


Why do Miquela, Blawko and Bermuda call themselves robots? They don’t seem robotic, nor do they claim to have AI. In fact, they seem to the product of very real, human intelligence. And they have no robotic parts….Wait...oh….


Should I quit social media?