As the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition marketing channel, influencer marketing was tremendously popular in 2017 and the trend continues in 2018. According to a survey on The State of Influencer Marketing 2018 from Linqia, 39% of marketers are planning to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018 and up to 66% for luxury brands. A new type of influencer has emerged in the social influencer sphere: the virtual influencer.
Lil Miquela, fashion’s first virtual Instagram influencer
The recent phenomenon in the influencer marketing sphere is Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela – a 20-year-old, Los Angeles-based, half Brazilian and half Spanish avatar. Miquela is a virtual influencer, in other words, a digital version of a social media influencer. Indeed, she is a persona that can influence our opinions, behaviours and attitudes like any “real” influencer except that she is a 3D computer-generated personality.
Since April 2016, when her Instagram account was activated, @lilmiquela’s follower base has kept growing and counts today more than half a million followers. The reasons of her success? Not only is she a beautiful model but also a music artist, a brand ambassador and even an advocate for social changes including Black Lives Matter and transgender rights.
Like most influencers, she enjoys sharing looks featuring branded clothes that she loves like Supreme, Chanel and Prada, posting selfies with her friends, providing makeup tips…content on her everyday life meticulously curated by an unknown person that she refuses to reveal.
Click here to listen her single “Not Mine” that hit the charts, number 8, on Spotify in August 2017
Virtual influencer, the new model of “virtual celebrity”?
The concept of virtual “personalities” is not that new when we think back to the late 1990’s and Gorillaz – a virtual music band made up of four animated characters popular at that time. In 2013, artistic director Marc Jacobs designed costumes for Hatsune Miku, a virtual pop singer who collaborated with music artists Lady Gaga and Pharell Williams. More recently, for its 2016 spring/summer collection, luxury brand Louis Vuitton collaborated with Final Fantasy XIII character Lightning to be the ambassador of the campaign. Lil Miquela has also “virtual” friends such as @blawko22 that we can often see on her Instagram pictures.
Lil Miquela’s emergence has reignited the conversation about virtual “celebrities” as we are now talking about virtual influencers. This raises the following question: how are they impacting our human-to-human interactions and relationships?
Virtual influencers generate interaction and engagement for both brands and followers
Lil Miquela may not be “real” physically but she is now a fashion icon and does collaborations with fashion brands and celebrities. For example, not only did she “attend” the Prada F/W 18-19 fashion show but she also participated in the launch of the Instagram campaign with exclusive GIFs. She has also become one of Pat McGrath’s muses, an influential makeup artist that collaborates with the biggest fashion brands, including Kim Kardashian and Naomi Campbell.
By working with her to promote beauty and products, brands leverage Miquela’s massive audience and found a way to reach millennials and engage with them.
GIF published on @lilmiquela Instagram page for the launch of #pradagifs
Lil Miquela’s large community of followers can be explained by her personal approach and her way to be close to her “Miquelites” (her fans) and interact with them as she directly messages them and tries to reply to messages as much as possible.
As a journalist stated at Medium, “We as both humans and consumers look for influencers that provide us with authentic and natural relationships; those that represent a collection of our interests… it’s in our nature to find and connect with those that share common personalities, thoughts, feelings and aspirations.” Her influence lies in its ability to create one-on-one connection with her hundreds of thousands of followers and thus create authentic engagement.
“The community stems from a place that feels safe to communicate and voice your opinions. When you’re only showing the world and not engaging it becomes one-sided. […] Learning also comes from listening, so if you don’t have a space for people to speak to you, then you’re limiting your growth.” Miquela Sousa
Virtual influencers: a threat to authenticity?
First question that pops up: is she real? Each of Miquela’s Instagram post shows hundreds of similar comments and addressing the same question (see picture below). For people who do not consider her as a “real” influencer, it raises the question about its authenticity as an influencer. “Should it matter to brands and publications if an influencer is computer-generated, if the avatar has the same influence on its following than that of a “real” influencer?” answers Christopher Morency, a journalist at Business Of Fashion. Indeed, the role of an influencer is first of all to be inspirational and trustworthy. Also, in our daily life, more and more people ask vocal assistants like Siri and Alexa how to find things and answer questions. So, why not follow a CGI avatar like Lil Miquela and take her fashion advice?
Finally, we have seen that virtual influencers blur the line between “real” and “virtual”. We tried to answer to different questions: Does it matter if influencers are virtual if they influence you? Are they authentic? Are they “real” influencers?
I think that as long as they are gaining popularity and engagement, we can only accept them into our everyday life. They also represent new opportunities for brands for potential collaborations. It remains to be seen what it brings for the future of influencer marketing and “real” influencers notably with the emergence of artificial intelligence.