Earlier this year we covered the crazy popularity and drama surrounding virtual Instagram Influencer, Lil Miquela, and her nemesis, Bermuda. Lil Miquela is your typical woke, stylish AF Next Gen influencer and has been ‘spotted’ with multiple celebrities.
She even has a best friend, Ronald Blawko, who was created by the same tech start up company, Brud.
Together they create fashion visuals that induce buyers lust just as much as if they were real.
Fake or Fab?
The trend of virtual influencers and models is growing with the latest being Balmain’s newest Army members: 3 CGI models named Margot, Shudu and Xhi (Yes, because real models still aren’t perfect enough).
Shudu, the first CGI model created by digital artist and photographer Cameron James-Wilson, is no newbie to the fashion game. The World’s First Digital Supermodel’s first Insta post was made back in 2016 and she has since amassed 143k followers after Fenty Beauty regrammed her wearing the brand’s lipstick.
And then ofcourse, we can’t ignore ‘My name is Sophia’ Sophia the robot. Sophia has appeared with celebrities, and on magazine covers. But Sophia differs in that she is actually real (or realer) than the virtual models above- because she is a robot. ICYMI Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics and made history as the first robot to be given citizenship of a country (for Saudi Arabia).
Here’s Sophia modeling Gucci:
And here she is modelling with a real model:
Tbh, she freaks me TF out.
The popularity of these CGI stars is a clear indication of an imminent trend towards brands creating their own perfect ambassadors, or hiring companies to create them and paying them for endorsements. A prediction that leaves many things to ponder, especially for us as consumers.
The appeal for followers of social media influencers is three-fold: relatability (at least, at first), endorsement and aesthetic. The second is the most important in this case, because if brands create their own influencers or use virtual avatars to push products, we have to ask if the partnership is financially-driven or product-driven. I.e: is the product actually good, or is the sponsorship cash the driving factor behind the partnership.
This is already an issue we see in the emerging world of social media law, where recently the Federal Trade Commission updated its endorsement guides to require influencers and brand ambassadors to specify which posts were paid for and which were not, in the pursuit of transparency. As consumers, followers deserve the right to know when we are being sold to, and labeling a post as an advert is the best way to be clear. However, the motives of RL influencers are already hard to distinguish. What happens when we take tried and tested endorsements and replace them with profit-driven avatars with corporates and marketing teams behind them?
The first appeal, relatability, goes out of the window when brands can create their ‘perfect’ CGI face. And this has us asking the question: Is it ethical to sell products or services to consumers, using a model whose aesthetic is even more unattainable than a real model, who we can at least relate to on a human level?
The push towards inclusivity and representation can be threatened by pixelated presentations of people, being used to sell products to real people. An avatar can be made into the epitome of inclusivity, but the idea would only enable the problematic nature of faux inclusivity in advertising. Something the fashion and beauty industry are suffering from already with an exhausted string of inclusive but profit-driven marketing campaigns that are sometimes tone deaf, and usually insincere. Because the point of representation is the realness that it represents (right…?).
The third appeal, aesthetic, is a key in the free for all creative platform that social media has become. If big brands come to own the market on influencers, then where does that leave your hopes of using your unique eye, and creative talent, plus social media savvy skills to become the next Chiara Ferragni? How could the average person compete with a team of marketers?
While big brands are already contenders online, with huge followings, a huge tool in their arsenal is the power of influencers- what about when they no longer ‘need’ someone to push their products, when they can pay companies who create avatars or their own teams to sell an even more unrealistic aesthetic than the curated content that already floods our feeds?
Words: Zoya Pon
Feature images: Instagram