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Pixel-perfect models: Virtual influencers could be the future of fashion advertising

One of the reviews listed on the Rotten Tomatoes website for the sci-fi comedy drama, S1m0ne, says, “[The movie] fails on all points of plot, characterisation, plausibility and realism…” The critics consensus on the site echoes this statement. “The satire in S1m0ne lacks bite, and the plot isn’t believable enough to feel relevant.”

S1m0ne, released 17 years ago, is about a filmmaker’s (played by Al Pacino) creation of a computer-generated actress (Rachel Roberts), who the public believe is real. The actress goes on to become more popular than her creator, which annoys the latter.

One, now, cannot argue that a computer-generated human-like personality can’t be more popular than an actual person. Because, well, that’s precisely what’s happening with Lil Miquela, Shudu, Liam Nikuro and a few others.

With Instagram followers ranging from over 100,000 to well in excess of a million, there’s a prediction that these personalities — comprised of intricately crafted pixels — will be the future of fashion advertising. Social media influencers — people with a large following who can impact lifestyle decisions — have been around almost since the time of the social media boom, which is around the turn of the decade. Many bloggers, vloggers and online entrepreneurs are big-time social media influencers. Brands, especially of fashion, turn to these influencers for better reach. But the thing with these influencers is that the brands can’t entirely control their actions. If an act of theirs irks the public, then the brand, too, might get some flak.

But what if you can have an influencer, whose actions you can entirely (or mostly) control? This is one of the primary appeals of virtual social media influencers. The idea of a social media influencer — albeit a strange quirk at the intersection of fashion, commerce and advertising — is not viral. The well-known ones are just about a handful.

Virtual Celebs
  • @lilmiquela (Lil Miquela), Instagram followers: 1.6M
  • Miquela Sousa, popularly known as Lil Miquela, is arguably the most popular virtual social media influencer. Created by a tech-design company, Brud, Miquela is projected as a forever 19, Brazilian-American fashionista and a music artiste. She has released several singles since her début with ‘Not Mine’.
  • @shudu.gram (Shudu), Instagram followers: 177K
  • Shudu, dubbed as the world’s first digital supermodel, is arguably the most human-looking of all the virtual influencers, with skin pores, errant strands of hair and all. Shudu is also perhaps the most controversial of her peers as she is a dark-skinned model created by a 28-year-old white man, Cameron-James Wilson.
  • @blawko22 (Blawko), Instagram followers: 136K
  • Blawko, unlike Shudu, can easily be identified as a 3D model. Sporting a buzz cut and face tattoos, he looks like a character out of video games. The biggest draw of Blawko is his face, which, in his one-and-a-half years of existence on Instagram, has been only partially revealed.

How do they work?

Despite some virtual influencers hinting that they are creations of AI and/or robots, they are merely 3D puppets with their invisible strings carefully manipulated by a usually discreet CG-artist. Unlike Al Pacino’s character in S1m0ne, the artist, here, is happy to take the back seat — at least, that’s how it’s been so far. Having said that, big bucks are at play when it comes to virtual influencers. According to TechCrunch, Lil Miquela’s creators, in January, had closed a $125 million investment round led by Spark Capital. Juniper Research estimates that the global fashion industry, perhaps inspired by the artificial models’ considerable success, will invest $3.6 billion in artificial intelligence technology this year.

The concept of virtual influencers has not made its mark in India. The reason is not easily pinpointable. “It’s puzzling, isn’t it? But I don’t think virtual influencers will be a thing in India,” says Riaan George, the editor of Business Traveller India and a social media influencer with an Instagram following of over 35,000. “We are highly advanced in technology now. So, if we were to adopt that, we would already have done that,” he says.

Swathi Mukund, blogger and another influencer (with over 59,000 Instagram followers), reckons Indians will relate to an actual person than a manufactured persona. “For instance, I can inspire my followers by posting videos of my run… They know where I go for a run. I can meet my followers face-to-face. They know that I am real and it helps them relate to me. I am not sure if it will be the same with a virtual person,” she says.

As George says, “It will be interesting though if they do come to India.”

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Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 11:38:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/pixel-perfect-models-virtual-influencers-could-be-the-future-of-fashion-advertising/article28331935.ece

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