Huddle 2018 - Content Hub

Could the future of influencers be completely virtual?

If you’re buying a product from an influencer because they have created an authentic, well targeted and interesting post that you enjoyed and engaged with – does it matter if that influencer isn’t real?  

Lil’Miquela’s status as an influencer went stratospheric earlier this year when people started to realise she wasn’t an actual human being. She even had her own beef with rival computer generated influencer, Bermuda - a real war of words between two virtual people.  

While virtual celebrities aren’t new in tech-first countries such as Japan (look at virtual pop star Hatsune Miku – a completely computer-generated teen who produces music thanks to clever algorithms) they’re still new and strange enough to spark debate about whether they should be used to sell products or not. 

A debate that became very lively at our panel at Mindshare’s Huddle, when a team of experts under the watchful of Alice Audley, Founder & CEO of Blogosphere Magazine tackled what turned out to be quite a thorny, but fascinating, subject.   

Gwilym Pugh, a Creator, Model, Photographeand Influencer was very much of the belief that yes, it does matter that influencers are real. To be successful influencers need authenticity, which you can’t get from a CGI construct.  

He was also very firmly of the belief that marketers and brands shouldn’t be abusing the medium just because they can, and that there should be a human element in influencer marketing. 

Sitting firmly on the other side of the fence, understandably you might think, was Cameron-James Wilson, creator of virtual super-model Shudu. However, his reasons for supporting virtual influencers were not as clear-cut as you might have thought.  

When he created Shudu he had been working as a photographer shooting models and beautiful people, so spent most of his time editing out and air brushing what those people thought were their imperfections. He said that this had a negative effect on him and how he felt about himself.  

But with Shudu, he was able to add in imperfectionsto create something real instead of taking away from something and making it unreal.  

Therefore, he argued, that Shudu was more real than many of the models and influencers who try and portray a perfect version of themselves. So, it didn’t matter at all if influencers were computer generated or actual people.  

The conversation then took a huge Sc-Fi swing as remaining panellist Dr Dave Ranyard –– a professor of AR and Cameron-James began hypothesizing about where this technology could go, suggesting it would be able to give influencers or models the ability to duplicate themselves, allowing them to take on numerous jobs at once. 

While the debate raged backwards and forwards looking at whether virtual influencers were a force for good or evil, whether they had any benefits for consumers and what the future for them might be Ian Samuel, the chief commercial officer at Buzzoole rounded it off by asking again whether it really mattered if they were real or notwhen looked at from a Marketing perspective 

“People need to think about what Influencer Marketing is used for and look at it through the lens of a marketing medium. As with many views around influencer marketing, is it really so bad? Provided the content is authentic to the brand and the influencer and the consumer is interested and engageddoes the fact that the influencer isn’t real take any of that interest away?