Pixel-accurate models: virtual influencers could be the future of fashion advertising
One of the reviews listed on the Rotten Tomatoes website for the sci-fi comedy-drama, S1m0ne, says, “[The movie] fails on all points of plot, characterization, plausibility and realism… ”The consensus of critics on the site echoes this statement. “Satire in S1m0ne lacks bite, and the plot isn’t believable enough to feel relevant.
S1m0ne, released 17 years ago, is about the creation by a filmmaker (played by Al Pacino) of a computer-generated actress (Rachel Roberts), whom audiences believe to be real. The actress becomes more popular than her creator, which annoys the latter.
It can no longer be argued that a computer generated human-like personality cannot be more popular than a real person. Because, well, that’s precisely what’s going on with Lil Miquela, Shudu, Liam Nikuro and a few others.
With Instagram followers ranging from over 100,000 to over 1 million, there is a prediction that these personalities – made up of finely crafted pixels – will be the future of fashion advertising. Social media influencers – highly-followed people who can impact lifestyle decisions – have been around since almost the days of the social media boom, at the turn of the decade. Many bloggers, vloggers, and online entrepreneurs are great social media influencers. Brands, especially in fashion, are turning to these influencers for better reach. But the problem with these influencers is that brands can’t fully control their actions. If one of their acts annoys the public, the brand could also be criticized.
But what if you can have an influencer, whose actions you can fully (or primarily) control? This is one of the main draws of virtual social media influencers. The idea of a social media influencer – although a strange quirk at the intersection of fashion, commerce, and advertising – isn’t viral. The best known are about a handful.
- @lilmiquela (Lil Miquela), Instagram followers: 1.6M
- Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela, is arguably the most popular virtual influencer on social media. Created by tech design firm Brud, Miquela is projected as a 19-year-old Brazilian-American fashionista and music artist. She has released several singles since her debut with ‘Not Mine’.
- @ shudu.gram (Shudu), Instagram followers: 177K
- Shudu, dubbed the world’s first digital model, is arguably the most human of all virtual influencers, with skin pores, stray strands of hair and everything. Shudu is also perhaps the most controversial of her peers as she is a dark-skinned model created by 28-year-old white man Cameron-James Wilson.
- @ blawko22 (Blawko), Instagram followers: 136K
- Blawko, unlike Shudu, can easily be identified as a 3D model. Sporting a buzz cut and tattoos on his face, he looks like a video game character. Blawko’s biggest draw is her face, which in the year and a half of being on Instagram has only been partially revealed.
How do they work?
Although some virtual influencers suggest that these are creations of AI and / or robots, they are just 3D puppets with their invisible chains carefully manipulated by a generally low-key CG-artist. Unlike the character of Al Pacino in S1m0ne, the artist here is happy to take the back seat – at least that’s how it is so far. That said, a lot of money is at stake when it comes to virtual influencers. According to TechCrunch, the creators of Lil Miquela in January closed a $ 125 million investment round led by Spark Capital. Juniper Research estimates that the global fashion industry, perhaps inspired by the tremendous success of artificial models, will invest $ 3.6 billion in artificial intelligence technology this year.
The concept of virtual influencers has not made its mark in India. The reason is not easily identifiable. “It’s confusing, isn’t it?” But I don’t think virtual influencers will be a thing in India, ”says Riaan George, editor-in-chief of Business Traveler India and social media influencer with over 35,000 followers on Instagram. “We are now very advanced in technology. So if we were to adopt this, we would have done it already, ”he says.
Blogger and other influencer Swathi Mukund (with over 59,000 Instagram followers) believes Indians will relate to a real person rather than a fabricated character. “For example, I can inspire my followers by posting videos of my run… They know where I’m going to run. I can meet my followers face to face. They know I’m real and it helps them identify with me. I don’t know if it will be the same with a virtual person, ”she said.
As George says, “It will be interesting if they come to India.”
Play-by-plays of technology concepts the size of a byte