CGI Virtual Influencers: What The New Trend Means for Influencer Marketing

October 9, 2020 David Rivera
Virtual influencer Lil Miquela posing for a YouTube thumbnail of her first video

We’ve talked about influencer marketing in the past. We know how it could play a massive role in brand promotion and the massive repercussions in terms of awareness.

There’s no denying that influencers—love them or hate them—can be helpful to any marketing campaign, be it big or small.

But as influencer marketing continues to evolve exponentially, these influencers might have found their newest match (and possible replacement)—in the form of CGI characters. Nope, you’re not misreading that, nor is this an article written in the dead of night as I muse on the darkest effects of technology and how we are in the early throes of Black Mirror-ish society.

What we’re talking about here are real (albeit virtual) influencers that can be manipulated and controlled to a brand’s bidding. I know it kind of sounds inhumane and dark, but then again, you won’t be doing that to a real-life influencer (lest you suffer human rights violations).

CGI virtual influencers are the latest fad in social media and influencer marketing these days. And the funny thing is that it works. Really.

Influencer Marketing Dystopia: The Rise of the Robots

Before you go, “oh shit, SkyNet is real!” on us; you might want to hold on to that thought—at least for now. Virtual influencers started gaining notoriety thanks to a certain Lil Miquela, a CGI character created by LA-based artificial intelligence company Brud.

Lil Miquela—now simply known as Miquela—took off on Instagram with a carefully-crafted narrative of being a 19-year-old musician. Since then, she has appeared in various fashion magazines and is also a famous fashion icon in her own right.

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A post shared by Miquela (@lilmiquela) on

But Miquela was just the beginning. Enter Blawko, a self-professed internet sex symbol which also happens to be a CGI model created by the same ones behind Miquela. His body looks stunning and real, although we’re not sure if he has a mouth or not.

Like Miquela, Blawko has been seen posing with various real-life influencers. He even dated fellow CGI model Bermuda at one point, though they had to end things in 2018.

Brands have jumped on the trend too. KFC introduced virtual Colonel Sanders last year, who looks like a cross between Machine Gun Kelly and Brenton Thwaites. And like a real influencer, the virtual Colonel is seen traveling across the globe to work on various brand partnerships (like this one with Dr. Pepper, though no drink shows up in the photo).

So the question is, are virtual influencers more powerful than the real ones?

Human Influencers vs. Virtual Influencers

The answer to that seems a bit foggy at the moment.

According to HypeAuditor, “virtual Influencers have almost three times more engagement rate than the real influencers. That means that followers are more engaged in virtual influencers content.” Do you mean to say robots have more reach than humans? I guess so, probably because these characters lean more towards the current pop culture novelty that most Gen Z and millennial markets jump on.

And if you factor in the coronavirus, virtual influencers are basically the safest route in terms of hiring brand ambassadors. They won’t have to undergo testing, let alone catch COVID-19, because, duh, they’re CGI characters. They can also go anywhere and do anything in the midst of the pandemic, never having to follow health protocols.

Goat Agency co-founder Harry Hugo describes the importance of virtual influencers, especially in the pandemic era. “They can be available 24/7 and have a personality molded to be exactly what you want. They can literally be whatever you want them to be,” Hugo says. “These things are massive plus points for brands because they make the perfect ambassador.”

It was only a few years ago when the idea of the social media influencer took hold—a massive revolutionary idea that caught on for years that it gave birth to various wannabes. It’s become such a problem that some small businesses are turning them away politely. The virtual influencer can help alleviate this negative press by literally being molded by the brand to what they want them to be.

But since this seems like a contained reality, for now, some marketing experts argue that it might not be that alarming for real influencers after all, since modern marketing techniques also rely on genuine human interaction and emotional impact.

Will influencer marketing see the rise of more virtual influencers in the future? That could be a yes or no as it depends on how the public perceives this new, emerging trend. True, they might be more effective than human influencers on Instagram, but whether or not their audience remains devoted to them remains to be seen.

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