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Computer Generated Influencers are Attracting Sponsorship Dollars

Computer Generated Influencers are Attracting Sponsorship Dollars

6 Minute Read

  • Partnering with CGI Influencers Allows Brands to Create

  • Minimal Regulation Surrounding CGI Influencers Means Brands Can Potentially Avoid Violations

  • CGI Influencers Can Reach Millennials and Gen-Z Followers

  • CGI Influencers Can Be Low-Risk in Comparison to their Real-Life Counterparts

  • CGI Influencers Can Face Challenges with Authenticity

  • CGI Influencer Campaigns are Not Exempt from Scandal


Computer Generated Image (CGI) Influencers have been a growing influencer category in recent years – they are expected to become leading social media influencers, many of whom already boast millions of social media followers and millions in endorsement deals. This growth is only expected to intensify, given that the industry is expected to reach a whopping $2 Billion by 2020.

Why is it that consumers are so enamored with these fictional characters?

The truth is, consumers have been fans of Artificial Influencers for a long time – the Gorillaz are a virtual band that have been making music since 1998, most recently partnering with Sonos to create a “Spirit House”. Another example of a digital influencer is none other than Barbie.

Barbie’s digital counterpart has been sharing vlog content online since 2015, with over 6.2 million YouTube subscribers. The difference between Barbie and some of the artificial influencers recently on the rise is that everyone knows Barbie is a doll, whereas the life-like nature of many CGI influencers has fooled people into believing they are actual people. According to a recent study, 42 percent of people who were following a digital Instagrammer didn't realize it wasn't a real person. The first of these CGIs to create shockwaves in the CGI influencer sphere is Lil Miquela.

Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela on Instagram), created by Los Angeles-based start-up Brud, has 1.5 million Instagram followers and has made waves in the industry – she was even recognized by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people on the Internet in 2018 and has partnered with high-fashion brands such as Prada and Moncler. While some experts raise their brows to partnerships between CGI Influencers and brands, it’s evident that CGI influencers are here to stay, and brands will continue to invest their sponsorship dollars in these characters.


What does the Growing CGI Influencer Market Mean for Brands?

Partnering with CGI Influencers Gives Brands the Flexibility to Create

Assuming the design team behind your CGI Influencer can work quickly enough, you can always post whatever you want, whenever you want, with the desired brand angle. Working with a CGI Influencer can be easier than working with a real influencer because of factors such as scheduling: a CGI Influencer can be in two places at once and doesn’t require travel and accommodation expenses.

Artificial Influencers also give brands a chance to be innovative and act on the cutting edge of technology by treading in a category that is still relatively new.

There Is Little Regulation Surrounding CGI Influencers Meaning Brands Can Potentially Avoid Violations

The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for human social influencers endorsing products, but doesn't have specific guidance on CGI influencers. This could be appealing to brands that have faced challenges with marketing regulations, notably the Cannabis category given its recent legalization in Canada.

CGI Influencers Have A Primarily Millennials And Gen-Z Following, Meaning Brands Can Easily Reach Them

Brands struggle to reach niche audiences, and computer-generated influencers are definitely more suited for specific audiences – particularly younger generations and those who are interested in animation. People who follow computer-generated influencers tend to have an interest in gaming and the likes of anime, a specifically niche audience. It’s because of the desire to tap into these hard-to-reach audiences that brands are becoming increasingly open to the idea of virtual influencers. Marissa Rosenblum, VP of content at Barneys New York said that when she opted to collaborate with Lil Miquela on a recent campaign in order to reach a younger millennial audience. For Barneys, the collaboration with Miquela wasn’t about wanting to reach out to virtual influencers in particular, bur rather wanting to reach Miquela’s audience.

CGI Influencers Are Low-Risk in comparison to real celebrities/influencers/individuals

The risk associated with sponsoring artificial influencers is lessened compared to flesh and blood celebrities/influencers/individuals. Much like sponsoring a sports association versus sponsoring an individual athlete, while an athlete could go off the deep end and be caught in a sandal, an Artificial Influencer doesn’t have a dark past that might come to light, such as a criminal record or a slew of racist tweets.

CGI Influencers Face Challenges With Authenticity

If models are computer generated, they raise issues regarding unrealistic standards of beauty. While some argue that real-life influencers can also digitally manipulate their images to perpetuate false ideals of beauty, this can be exacerbated by CGIs given that they are entirely a product of digital manipulation.

CGI models also raise questions in terms of the ethics surrounding endorsing products that one cannot actually try (given that they are not real!) Lil Miquela posted about OUAI hair products for "keeping [her] strands silky smooth” - how can Lil Miquela’s followers trust her to advocate for hair products when she can’t actually try the products? As a brand it is important to determine if an Artificial Influencer can represent your brand or service category without appearing inauthentic.

CGI Influencer Campaigns are not EXEMPT from Scandal

While CGI influencers may be “fictional characters”, that is not the way they’re perceived by their followers. What they do and say has a meaningful impact on real life and can be taken seriously by the public at large.

Last week, Calvin Klein experienced the full effect of this, in the LGBTQ+ community’s backlash towards their #MyTruth #MyCalvins campaign. In a 30 second video released on Lil Miquela’s social media platforms, the CGI influencer shares an impassioned kiss with American model Bella Hadid (@bellahadid).

The incident is a perfect example of both the burgeoning prominence of CGI influencers, and the seriousness with which their content is received. This is not seen as a “fantasy” by viewers, and the impact is non-trivial. As with any spokesperson, sponsorship, or campaign, brands need to consider what they do carefully - and what message it could be sending.

The Artificial Influencer category has reached tremendous heights recently – while some praise their ingenuity, many criticize the ever-blurring lines between fiction and reality online. It’s important for brands to be proactively aware of the changing sponsorship landscape, and this new influencer category.

Would you buy a product endorsed by a Virtual Influencer? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram @MKTG_Canada

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