By Felicia Guthrie
We’ve written and shared countless articles about influencer marketing, from the basics, to the do’s and don’ts, and everything in between but today I’ll be exploring the current fascination with and future of CGI influencers.
What and who are CGI Influencers?
CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery, this means that CGI Influencers are characters that are created digitally, so while there’s an actual person posting on the account, the images include a CGI person. These CGI influencers can appear quite lifelike, blurring the lines between real and fake. Perhaps the most popular CGI influencer is Miquela. Miquela or Lil Miquela as she is also known, was created in 2016 and quickly gained a following because of her unique aesthetic. Until the recent “robot” addition to her Instagram bio, many were unsure if Miquela was a real person or a simulation.
Miquela boasts 1.6 million followers on Instagram, sometimes appears in photos with real people and has had brand deals with companies such as Calvin Klein. At first glance, you may think she’s like any other influencer.
Why are brands working with CGI Influencers?
Aside from intrigue, brands are interested in working with CGI influencers for a couple of reasons. A few advantages are adaptability, control, and less potential risk.
Computer generated influencers are very easily manipulated. They can wear anything and they can be anywhere. They can be modeled to fit any campaign. When working with real-life influencers, you need to find specific influencers that fit your niche and will reach a specific target. If you’re working with real-life models, you’ll need to find people who fit the specifications/look of what your brand is looking for (i.e. body type), but with a simulated person everything is much more controlled and adaptable.
CGI influencers are often created by professionals with a marketing purpose. Because they create the persona and the content and don’t need to deal with the unpredictability of people, it is easier to set the specifications and control the messaging.
There have been so many examples of influencers getting into hot water because they said or did something that was inappropriate or not aligned with their brand. When an influencer DOES get themselves into trouble, brands more often than not want to cut ties with them because they don’t want the negative association. Brands assume that with a CGI persona, there is less risk of this happening.
What should brands watch out for?
The advantages outlined above do not necessarily outweigh the disadvantages of working with a CGI influencer.
While brands believe there is less risk using a CGI influencer, it can’t be said that there is no risk. This risk can come from both the creator/company behind the influencer or from a brand working with the influencer.
Recently, in May 2019, designer Calvin Klein released a campaign spot that features real-life model Bella Hadid and CGI influencer Miquela. The commercial features Bella Hadid and Miquela kissing. While the CGI appeared seamless and was fascinating, the tech fell into the background and instead the hot topic of conversation was disappointment. This disappointment and in turn backlash, stemmed from the use of queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is a marketing technique where brands try to “bait” LGBQT consumers into buying into their brand. In this case, Calvin Klein took most of the heat but Miquela and Bella were still part of the backlash.
Most of all, CGI Influencers lack characteristics that are a major driving force behind influence – trust and authenticity. Trust and authenticity create a connection between influencers and consumers (and between consumers and brands!). When you know that the “person” you’re looking at isn’t real but is trying to sell you something they couldn’t possibly have used and tried themselves, it breaks the illusion of authenticity. According to a survey by Social Media Today, 86% percent of people say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support and like.
With a simulated person, consumers can’t connect and relate to them as well. Market Research company Suzy asked women how they felt about computer generated models replacing human models in print and video advertisements and 59% of women felt negatively about it. One of their respondents said, “No thank you. Photoshopped humans already make me feel like I am not good enough, I don’t need anything else reminding me.” When Suzy asked the same consumers if they would feel more positively if the models represented more diversity, 46% still responded “No.”
Authenticity and connection are driving forces behind a successful influencer personality and the customer experience.
CGI Influencers are definitely intriguing but if you’d like to create a genuine connection with your consumers and are thinking about investing in influencer marketing, reach out to us today and we can help you get started.