Recently, I found out about a trend in the Social Media World: VR Influencers. No, I am not talking about experts in the field of Virtual Reality but rather animated characters (i.e. VR Influencers) who ARE the influencers. Sounds crazy? It’s a reality.
I selected the image above on purpose as it did not only spread for the fact that the well-known model Bella Hadid who publicly identifies as a heterosexual woman is kissing another woman but also for the fact that she isn’t. In fact, the second lady on the picture is indeed just a fictional character, known as Lil Miquela.
The ad was created by Calvin Klein as part of the “I Speak My Truth” campaign in May 2019. However, Calvin Klein was not the first big brand to jump on the VR influencer trend. In fact many fashion labels and luxury brands like UGG, Prada, Samsung and Channel have already worked with the 19-year-old, LA-based avatar.
When checking out Miquela Sousa’s Wikipedia page (yes, she has a Wikipedia page were her “real” name is stated) one can learn more about her “life”. The half-brazilian singer’s music is inspired by artists like Rihanna and Erykah Badu. Miquela entertains more than 2.4 Mio. followers on Instagram and her single “Hate me” was streamed more than 4 Mio. times.
Well, you might think now that an invented person’s life is easy but even in fiction there are problems. Miquela’s profile got hacked in 2018 by Bermuda who then replaced all her Instagram picture with pictures of herself. The end of the world? Not for tough Miquela. She admits that she is indeed “just” fictional and becomes friend with Bermuda who is – surprise – also just an avatar. Together with Blawko (another avatar) they are now forming a fake, happy group of friends.
Who is behind “Miquela”?
Hardly anything is known about “Brud”, the Silicon Valley based technology company who created Miquela and her friends. According to Tech Crunch, the company raised 20-30 Mio. USD to create Miquela in the first place. Nowadays, the company is said to be worth up to 125 Mio. USD. Most of the income is generated through collaborations with brands as well as “her” music video.
So why would anyone want to buy a face cream from a fictional character who obviously has no real skin or interact with them about their choice of Netflix show for the evening?
While the appeal for companies to jump on the trend while it’s still new is clear, the users mainly enjoy Miquela’s content as a form of entertainment. Rather than following their favorite Telenovela on TV or binging a Netflix show, they are invested in the “Reality” TV Show on Miquela’s instagram stories. Hostile take-overs by evil avatars and blackmail to reveal her identity as well as deeper and yet viral trends like the #blacklivesmatter movement or environment topics can be found on Miquela’s instagram profile.
Mixing some well-known elements, gestures and wordings commonly used across Instagram by different influencers with artificially created music videos and photoshopped pictures makes the border between reality and fiction shift. Some pictures truly blow your mind and make you repeatedly doubt what’s real and what’s created with the help of technology.
The founders’ vision is to change the world with the help of their virtual influencer who they also call a “change-seeking robot”.
While Miquela and her friends are amazing examples of how much reach fictional characters can generate on Instagram they are by no means inventions in themselves. CGI (computer generated imagery) has been used in the video games industry for many years and is therefore not new to the world. However, using the same technology to replicate a human in an environment like Instagram where the audience usually thrives for authenticity is truly a phenomenon.
Will more companies follow Brud and create their own influencers, maybe even in-house as an even cheaper alternative to the Influencer Marketing? Most likely not because while they fascinate a large number of people right now, this fascination is clearly linked with their unconventionality. If VR influencers really start to catch-on this factor would be taken out of the equation.
Also from an ethical standpoint, such a trend would be highly controversial. Firstly, the influencer & content creates industry offers a place for many young professionals to earn some money off their creativity. This is still a fairly new field which allows many more people to live off their passion who would then lose their jobs. Additional, looking at the end-users it’s doubtful that the same level of trust can be established with an avatar in comparison to a human being. Of course, even with influencers there currently is a distance between them and their idols in the form of a smart phone screen. However, the trend is going towards reducing this obstacle to a minimum by working with VR goggles to really get the person (and brands) even closer to their audiences.
I will link a couple more articles on Miquela and the use of VR technology in Marketing below. Have a look and let me know what you think in the comments down below.
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