First appearing in 2016, CGI influencers have grown in popularity, posing questions regarding the future of the digital marketing landscape. These digital influencers are suspiciously realistic computer-generated characters that come with their own complex fictional background and story, blurring the lines between real and fake. In fact, a new study revealed that 42 percent of millennials and Gen Z users were unaware that digital influencers they followed were CGI. While it’s unclear the implications of CGI influencers and where this industry could go, the trend is growing, and the characters are no doubt going to be utilised more and more in digital marketing.
Who are they?
Just as fascinating as the CGI influencers themselves are the people and teams behind them. The most prominent example of this is Brud, the elusive LA-based company behind Lil Miquela, Bermuda and Blawko. Not only are their trio of influencers enigmatic, but the company itself is extremely secretive, with its only information online being a single Google Doc.
Miquela Sousa, known as Lil Miquela on Instagram, is the 19-year-old digital creation dominating the CGI influencer arena, racking up 1.6 million followers since she stepped on the scene in 2016. She boasts a unique aesthetic, hangs out with A-list pals and has her own merchandise and music, among other accolades. Miquela has partnered with top brands including Samsung Mobile, and even appeared in a controversial Calvin Klein ad, where she kisses real-life supermodel Bella Hadid. In 2018, Time Magazine ranked her in the 25 most influential people on the internet category, alongside Donald Trump, Kanye West and Kylie Jenner. These successes are that much more impressive considering she only exists in the digital realm.
Bermuda and Blawko are the other creations of Brud, making a trio of intertwined digital influencers who hang out, have relationships and engage in public social media spats. Bermuda originally stepped on the scene as a blonde Trump supporter, who tried to take down her counterpart Miquela by hacking into her Instagram account. She has since changed her political views and hangs out with Miquela and her on again off again ex-boyfriend, Blawko.
While Brud seems to be dominating the CGI influencer scene, there are other characters receiving matchable recognition. London-based photographer Cameron James Wilson is the creator behind Shudu, the first digital supermodel, and he has been much more vocal about her than the super secretive Brud. She looks more realistic than any of her cohorts, highlighting Wilson’s artistic skill, and has modelled for Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Balmain, creating significant buzz around whether she is a real person or not.
Other artists have taken a different approach with their digital creations. Munich-based graphic designer Joerg Zuber is the mind behind CGI influencer Noonouri, who boasts over 300k followers, and looks more like a Pixar character than a deceptively real person, such as Miquela and company. She has a backstory of a 19-year-old vegan fashionista living in Paris and has secured partnerships with a number of brands including Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty.
CGI Influencer Marketing – what’s good?
The most exciting and promising aspect of this new CGI influencer marketing trend is the buzz surrounding it, and the fast growth it has seen over the past few years. According to Insider, $5 billion was spent on the industry in 2018, with CGI influencers making up an estimated 39% of all Instagram accounts. Additionally, sources report that Brud raised $20 million from top venture capitalists in 2018 alone. Not only is CGI influencer marketing a buzzing and booming industry, it’s a fresh and innovative way to connect with consumers, making it an important avenue for marketers to explore.
One unique way that digital influencers are pushing the boundaries is shedding light on political and social issues. Even nonhuman influencers have a level of influence, and using this power for this kind of messaging can be seen as a positive aspect. For instance, Lil Miquela has spoken up about family separation issues and transgender rights, while Noonoouri considers herself an ‘activist’ who campaigns for veganism and the rights of animals. Another example of this is Brenn, one of Wilson’s CGI creations. Brenn has a curvier body shape with visible stretch marks, representing inclusivity in an industry that often promotes unattainable standards.
The Downside of CGI Influencer Marketing
Like any marketing trend, the future of CGI influencers is unknown, and while it may blow up and continue to stick, it may be a passing social media fad, especially if something more exciting comes along. Another important consideration is finding a balance between ambiguity and transparency. The Grocer points out that CGI influencers will face difficulties promoting things like food or travel when it is known that they aren’t actually experiencing it. CGI influencers lack the authenticity that makes other ‘real-life’ influencers so attractive to audiences.
However, Insider points out that there is not much difference between a real influencer and a CGI character. While CGI influencers are obviously digital creations, human influencers on social media are also polished in a way that isn’t akin to real life. With this in mind, is a campaign featuring Lil Miquela or Shudu any different than say, Kim Kardashian? Just like digital influencers, the majority of Kim K’s audience cannot aspire to be like her, nor be her friend because of her celebrity status and lavish lifestyle. Further, when it comes to brand deals, you can’t know a real influencer’s intentions any better than you would a digital one.
These setbacks may not be a problem for long. Sources suspect that as technology advances, CGI influencers will become less and less obvious, which is already occurring across audiences. While there is a lot that is unclear regarding the future of CGI influencers, what is clear is the opportunities it will continue to bring to the marketing sphere.