Influencers have been slowly gaining notoriety over the last decade. For many, popularity would be the wrong term, as although a large amount of companies have come round to the benefits of utilising influencer talent, for their audience it’s very much a love/hate relationship.
For a multi-billion-dollar industry, the hate part can be very risky. And so; certain innovators in this space have apparently skipped over any possible negatives derived from influencers, who might go on to tarnish a brand or just rub a customer-base the wrong way with ‘entitled behaviour’. Whilst marketers have been using machine learning and personas for years, in order to create the average customer, the personas have now taken on a life of their own… literally. Turning the persona into the entire campaign, marketers and recruiters are using this ideal image of what their customer-base both identify with and aspire to, by creating virtual influencers.
These virtual influencers, who for all intents and purposes look, speak and chat like human-beings, carry with them less risk than traditional influencers and can facilitate hundreds of conversations at the same time. They can also be tied to one brand, meaning that followers aren’t diluted and there’s a much better ROI (Return on Investment). Dudley Nevill-Spencer, Founder, VIA & Innovation at Live & Breathe, sums this up by telling The Drum magazine “it’s a way for brands to control the content, control the conversation and communicate the messages they want, by having an emotional relationship with their audience.” However, he also claims that whilst they want this real relationship, they’re also trying to ensure that “people understand this is a computer-generated image”. Whatever their intentions may be at Live & Breathe however, comments underneath the Instagram posts of AI such as LilMiquela, a digital pop star, suggest some users are actively invested in their made-up lives.
Shockingly, for many of these virtual influencers, their content actually feels more organic than that of influencers who have been at the game for years. Taking away the blatant ad promotions for different brands every day makes these characters feel less conceited and more in tune with generation Z’s values.
Whilst uptake in followers has been slow for many of these influencers (Floresta, created for The Drum, connects really well with commenters, however, only has an average of 20 likes per photo. Even Dagney.gram, a digital supermodel, who’s featured in campaigns for Givenchy, GQ and Mac, only has a following of 5,930 people) companies aren’t hanging them out to dry just yet and we predict that with their non-threatening demeanors, in a world of comparison, we’ll be seeing much more of them over the next few years. How companies like The Diigitals, the world’s first all-digital modelling agency, go about that however needs to be well thought out. No matter how popular they get, there will be backlash if they are seen to be taking jobs from human beings. Social Media Influencer is the second most popular job choice for British children between the ages of 11-16, topped only by Doctor, however there’s only a finite amount of those who can make it. When what is essentially some code takes one of these spots, there can be anger, such as that aimed at Shudu, one of The Diigitals creations. Shudus position as a black model for brands such as Balmain, was met with a lot of pushback, due to the fact that BAME models are already under-hired within the fashion photography space. This pushback could also extend to other industries such as customer service if it is felt those already on low incomes are being pushed out of roles.