What’s up with virtual influencers?
By Carolyn McMurray, SOCIATE’s Junior Copywriter & Blogstar
Virtual influencers are a bit like a clique of cool kids on steroids. They drink soy lattes. They parade the streets of New York (replace with your buzzing capital city of choice) with their Louis Vuitton bags. They do yoga on Miami beaches. They also have insanely good freckles. They’re the epitome of THAT girl (the kind of person who wakes up at 5 AM, lives on green juice, and never orders takeout). So yeah, they’re basically robots.
And that’s the funny part. These matcha drinking, get up at dawn, and party-until-midnight kinds of influencers are in fact bots. They’re about as real as Santa Claus. Yep, they’re all…code and data. They might look like a carbon copy of every influencer you’ve ever seen, but they’re really just a complex form of AI.
A 101 on virtual influencers
Simply put, virtual influencers (VI) are CGI-generated versions of us. They wear clothes, eat food, and even have ‘personalities.’ There’s a whole army of them cropping up, and trust me, they really do act like humans.
In the VI world, cliques exist. Clout-chasing exists. Some VIs are Trump supporters. Others like to cause a scene and stir up Instagram wars with fellow VIs. It’s like watching a real-life episode of Gossip Girl unfold, except these characters are made of code and bits of CGI data.
So, how do virtual influencers work?
Unfortunately, CGI tech isn’t advanced enough to allow VIs to control themselves, so they’re under the mercy of us humans. Sitting behind the wheel of these influencers are faceless people. Anonymous people. Most of them are companies in the AI and CGI space themselves, creating VIs to flaunt their tech skills.
These digital creators essentially play “house” with these VIs. They decide what clothes to dress them up in, where they will hang out, what friendships they will form, and who they’ll date. It sounds fun, right? But it isn’t just passion and love of tech that’s leading individuals to carve out virtual characters, it’s business.
The genius behind virtual influencers
You see, VI’s are great for digital marketing. They cause a scene, and it’s easy to see why.
They’re different from the average influencer. They may do all the same things, but they’re not real. They’re mysterious. They leave people wondering why. It’s this fascination that has led to their popularity increasing, seeing some VIs rack up as many as 3.1m followers.
And where people flock, brands will follow. If there’s a popular trend, you can bet your lucky stars that brands will be on it. It’s the same with VI’s. They have large audiences. People are strangely attracted to them. Brands look at this playing field and see untapped potential. Potential to market to millions of people.
That’s why you’ll see so many of these VIs wearing branded clothes. Or promoting products from different companies. It’s an amazing symbiotic relationship. Brands get exposure and the individuals behind the bots get a monetary reward.
Bots are also a lot easier to manage than living, breathing humans. If a real-life influencer messes up a piece of content, it can take a few days to fix. If a VI messes up, it can be resolved in a matter of hours.
It’s easy to see the appeal.
Popular virtual influencers
So, what do these VI’s actually look like? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular on the scene…
1. Lil Miquela – 3.6m followers
Lil Miquela pretty much started the whole VI hype. When her account popped up in 2016 – people were fascinated. Some thought it was a promotion for the upcoming Sims game. Others thought it was a practical joke. It turned out to be the handiwork of LA-based startup, Brud. Specialising in all things AI, Brud simply wanted to show off their tech skills. They got a whole lot more than they bargained for though, including a $6m capital venture funding deal.
The character: Miquela Sousa, AKA Lil Miquela, is a half Spanish, half-Brazillian 19-year old living it up in the heart of LA. Her Instagram is choc-a-bloc full of her OOTDs, as well as her collaborations with big-name brands. The summer of 2021 saw her release her first single on Spotify, and she regularly collaborates with Samsung.
2. Bermuda – 281k followers
Bermuda is the queen of Instagram wars. She’s also the most controversial. Between rivalry with fellow VI Lil-Miquela and a relationship with Blawko, Bermuda’s moves left many wondering who created her. As many guessed, Brud was behind the controversial VI’s profile.
The character: Bermuda is Instagram’s mean girl. As well as throwing shade (and regularly, might I add) to other VI’s, Bermuda doesn’t believe in climate change and is an avid Trump supporter. Her Instagram is a curation of boss-girl moments, OOTDs, and regular catch-ups with her VI friends. She’s also finally made up with Lil-Miquela.
3. Blawko – 145k followers
The VI world is largely dominated by women, so Blawko’s entrance in late 2016 caused quite a stir.
He is well known for his tumultuous relationship with Bermuda and was also created by Brud.
The character: Blawko is much more low-key than his fellow VI’s. He’s also a lot more mysterious. He wears a mask that covers half his face and is always showing off the latest streetwear style. It seems fame was written in the stars for Blawko because he now has his own Youtube channel and a regular spot on NTS radio.
4. Shudu – 218k followers
I remember coming across Shudu sometime in early 2017 and not even second-guessing her origins. She’s human, right? Wrong! I wasn’t the only one fooled though. It turns out Fenty Beauty also had a hard time distinguishing a bot from a human because they promoted her page on Instagram. It was soon revealed that Shudu was actually the brainchild of photographer, Cameron James-Wilson.
The character: Instagram’s first AI model, Shudu’s Instagram is filled with shots of her OOTDs and collaboration with brands like Chanel and Fenty. Signed to digital modelling agency (yep, those exist) TheDiigitals.com, Shudu regularly models for Balmain.
Robots might not be taking over the world, but they’re sure taking over the digital space. The popularity of virtual influencers has boomed over the last four years, opening up a whole new arena for marketing.
And while it’s a little strange to follow the lives of robots in LA, there’s something addictive about it. They might not be real, but their uncanny resemblance to us continues to mesmerize and cause a scene.
One thing the rise of VIs has done is to reiterate the importance of social media.
TikTok, Instagram, Youtube – all of these channels double as great marketing platforms.
If you haven’t made the most of your socials or are keen to elevate your strategy, explore SOCIATE’s Social Media Management services in Dubai. We know algorithms. Hashtags. What works and what doesn’t. We also have a network of amazing influencers ready to promote your brand.
Pick our Social Media teams’ brains today at [email protected]