Artificial Intelligence is striding its way into all our industries and as the technology involved advances, it’s only set to do so even more. We’ve turned our thoughts to how it’s affecting Influencer Marketing and this seems to be in two forms: data collection and processing and the rise of the Artificial Influencer. Like many places where AI makes its mark, for Influencer search and performance, it’s about ultimately improving the end product, increasing industry efficiency and solidifying the ‘guarantee’ behind estimated ROI. However, where we think things get interesting, or somewhat questionable, is AI in the creation of Influencers. You heard us right, Artificial Intelligence-generated Influencers, the CGI supers with real followings clinging on to their very unreal lives. 

We’re in two minds about the presence of these CGI constructs (soon to read Computer Generated Influencers) and can’t quite work out whether their very success is in fact a hugely ironic statement about the inescapable falsity that social media hosts. Have we become so attuned to highly edited, “fictional” imagery and fake news that CGI can play the game just as well, if not better? At One Roof, we’re staunchly defensive of anything that threatens authenticity in the Influencer Marketing landscape because lack thereof has ultimately made it the murky waters that we’re trying desperately hard to clean. In short, we can’t help but feel that these artificial creations are the very antonym of authentic. Willingly adopting this into the Influencer Marketing space, when such an effort thus far has been made to limit it, could be argued as backward and counterproductive to both audiences and creators alike. But then, does it really matter? Though we respect the technology, we’re not sold on the concept. Let’s discuss. 

What or Who are these Influencers?

In April 2016, technology firm Brud, who describe themselves as “Los Angeles based problem solvers specializing in robotics, artificial intelligence and their applications to media businesses”, launched the first artificial Influencer, @lilmiquela. Earlier this year, @shudu.gram, the world’s first CGI supermodel designed by photographer Cameron-James Wilson, rose to fame after being regrammed by Fenty Beauty wearing the cult brand’s lipstick shade “Mattemoiselle”. Then there’s @bermudaisbae, the frenemy of @lilmiquela who ‘hacked’ her account and wouldn’t give it back until she told her audience “the truth”. Apart from conjuring a mix of gripping Catfish episodes with an eerie Matrix-esque futurism, these artificial Influencers are posing various questions for the industry, from influence ownership to ethical existence.  

At 1.3 million followers strong, an activist for movements such as Black Lives Matter and already featured in partnerships with Prada and Giphy, @lilmiquela holds influence. But where, or from whom, is this influence actually coming from? Trace it back to the source and it’s the team at Brud, around 11 employees creating content that consumers want to see through their avatar/robot/CG-Influencer, Miquela. Look at the inspiration to launch her, the issues she addresses and her ethos of “standing for good” and she’s the very product of the community following her. So influence gets handed to the audience. Though she holds the title, nowhere in this is @lilmiquela, in her single form, the Influencer. 

Can You Relate?

Influencer Marketing is founded on the authority that individuals have on a particular theme; based on the noise these individuals make in their relevant sectors, brands partner with them to reach new audiences and speak to these through a respected figure. Why does it work? Because an audience can relate. 

Throw the likes of @lilmiquela into the mix and the whole concept around being relatable gets completely disfigured. From a brand perspective, partner with them and you associate an unreal figure with your product. What that projects is that your brand goes hand in hand with something humanly unattainable, which should, if logic pervades, render it entirely un-relatable. Admittedly, we don’t expect @lilmiquela to be partnering with any beauty brands claiming that they’ve helped her spots and suit her skin perfectly, but even from a fashion or lifestyle perspective, the very association with something that isn’t real surely questions the ethos of the brand involved? But what if, ultimately AI performs better than a human? What decision is a brand to take from a business perspective, if AI grants better ROI? 

 From a social perspective, we really ought to question why, or even how this content is being engaged with. We’re all familiar with the numerous campaigns launched around positive body image and diversity, how social media has been named responsible for disillusioned teens and a rise in mental health issues. Consequently, we can’t help but feel that engaging with computer generated imagery and influence on these subjects, i.e. listening and absorbing an artificially created asset, is a total oxymoron. Contest this and you’re demonstrating exactly what we’re preaching; a decade of social media misuse, fake news and highly altered imagery means we’re, to an extent, numb to thinking critically of anything presented to us that is fundamentally not real. We won’t deny that tech like @lilmiquela and her posse are impressive, but we do question what they pose for the integrity of social media. 

Homogenised Content

Now we believe the relationship between an Influencer and their audience are interdependent – that’s to say cut one and the other falls. Not to be dramatic but we know that expectant audiences leap to the DM box at the first sign of an Influencer’s absence and if an Influencer’s audience disappears, well so does the Influencer. Look to AI and the risk of unbalancing this interdependence gets eradicated. Through enhanced data-processing and intelligence, the content produced will constantly adapt to what the audience want to see; as a result, the potential for unsuccessful content is diminished, if not totally absent. 

So what does that mean for the feeds? From a performance perspective, success, with consistently positive results from dynamic content in tune with an audience’s interests. At the same time, it seems that there’s a process of homogenisation happening. Lest we forget that the very basis of interaction on social media is choice: choosing what we want or don’t want to engage with. Remove that from the equation (though will we even notice?), and we’re faced with a utopia of curated content on the surface, but beneath, a complete lack of critical response to what we see before us. 

For the Influencer space, though we can’t say yet, instinct would tell us that out-performance by artificial intelligence is probably the overall direction. That’s not to say human Influencers won’t have their presence, but artificial intelligence may well be necessary in their own content production to compete with that of the CGI supers. 

A Stroke of Ingenuity

At One Roof, we’ve looked at these Artificial Influencers hard, trying to understand what exactly is going on. Is the engagement, the following, the fame, purely out of respect for the tech, the quality of the CGI and production around their whole existence? If so, it must be one of the greatest pieces of content marketing that we’ve seen this century. A business (Brud) wanted to get their brand out there, so they turned to the most trending form of marketing, but not as we know it. Instead of using Influencers to talk about their product, they created them as the very product itself. Brud are undeniably tech and more specifically AI heavyweights, challenging everything we once thought about relatable content. 

Or is it one hell of an ironic statement? Still genius though. Create something fake that people want to engage with, more so than the real, and it makes us question pretty much everything that we’ve come to know – and that’s the very point. In Brud’s latest press release about the somewhat fractured relationship with Lil Miquela, they finish it stating that “Miquela stands for all that is good and just and we could not be more proud of who she has become.” Is the stand for good her challenging our self-perceptions, encouraging us to think critically and disengage with the falsities, demonstrated through her very presence and success online? Deep, but here’s hoping.