Human influencers are currently facing growing competition from virtual influencers in today’s digital media landscape.  Before we kick-off, let me introduce you to Shudu, Margot, and Zhi — three virtual influencers designed and produced by the French fashion brand, Balmain, who commissioned the former British photographer Cameron-James Wilson to create a “virtual army” of digital models. These virtual models have garnered a lot of attention and are continuing to grow in popularity.

Human simulations have existed in the media for years. They have made music in the band Gorillaz, lived an approximation of real life in the Sims video games, and dealt cards in Las Vegas casinos.  Now, we are facing an even bigger trend in the digital world towards these simulations because they have become more realistic, more engaging, and they even exude as much realness to their followers as mega-superstar Rihanna.

Food for thought: How can consumers trust the message being put out there?

Virtual influencers could lead companies into “a dangerous area.” For instance, virtual influencers are not so far removed from their real-life predecessors. It’s no secret that the humans who promote brands on social media often project a version of daily life that is shinier and happier than the real thing. But when a brand ambassador’s very existence is questionable — especially in an environment studded with deceptive deepfakes, fraud, and bots — what happens to the old virtue of truth in advertising?  One could argue that social media has already gotten rid of some of that truth, for it has largely been a domain for humans and human influencers to promote their lives in a deceptive way.

On the other hand, virtual influencers are not dealing with some of the concerns faced by human influencers — maintaining a camera-ready appearance and dealing with online trolls, all while keeping sponsors happy. In my opinion, brands have grown and will continue to grow to like working with avatars — they don’t have to do 100 takes! I also see how avatars can be the future of storytelling, and we all know how important storytelling is for brands to move product.

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Nice to meet you, Colonel Sanders!

Hi, Lil Miqueala! 

A silver coif worthy of a teen idol, tattooed abs, and a dusting of stubble on his jaw… Recently the fast-food chain KFC introduced Colonel Sanders on their active social media channels. Yep, another virtual being. Even the love for this virtual influencer is very real, and they introduced Colonel Sanders to poke a little fun at the advertising world. 

As a heavy Instagram users, you’ve also probably met Lil Miqueala, living her best life under the Los Angeles sun. 19 years old, a button nose, deep brown eyes, and freckles… This Instagram celebrity meticulously shows of her life, championing luxury fashion and progressive politics. But you better keep in mind she’s more cyborg than California Girl. Lil Miquela is proof that the popularity of virtual models is definitely on the rise. This digital art project has over 1.6 million followers on Instagram and models high fashion looks while promoting multiple charitable organizations to help bring awareness to their causes. 

When Calvin Klein jumps on the bandwagon

Earlier this month, the American fashion brand, Calvin Klein, dropped their latest campaign, which focused on the kiss between Miquela Sousa and Bella Hadid.  This commercial struck many viewers as unrealistic; it was even considered offensive. After the 30-second spot appeared online, the fashion label apologized, as people started blaming the brand for deceiving customers with a sham lesbian encounter.