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A “completely new era of influencer social media marketing” is upon us, well, that’s if you’re paying attention to commentary surrounding the abrupt rise of virtual influencers. This has resulted in marketing experts predicting a future in which computer-generated avatars, instead of real human beings will inspire consumer-spending patterns. The way in which social media has transformed information consumption (what we take in), is essentially a distortion of reality. So would it really matter whether influence is coming via a real person with a beating heart or a robot?

Virtual Infuencers
Shudu is the creation of British photographer Cameron-James Wilson

In a not-so-surprising move, brands are falling for the hype, as they usually do with each trend that crops up in the industry. In February this year, Miquela (@lilmiquela), an artificial intelligence ‘influencer’, collaborated with Prada for Milan Fashion Week by sharing 3D-generated gifs of herself with her 1.4 million Instagram followers. Olivier Rousting’s Balmain followed suit by announcing CGI models Margot, Shudu and Zhi as part of his Balmian Army.

Virtual Influencers
CGI Models have now joined ‘The Balmain Army’

The fundamentals of influencer marketing are rooted in authenticity. Ideally, we should believe that influencers gain a following and credibility as tastemakers and trend-spotters by immersing themselves in their field of expertise, not through some code. They go all out to review products, interview the right people and they put in the work to create trends which in turn provide their audience with curated recommendations that they can back up. However, this computer-generated influencer trend poses a massive potential risk to the future of culture and could be a huge threat to human connectivity. Furthermore, this trend also raises the concerns listed below:

Virtual Influencers
Robot & Instagram model Miquela made an impression on Tracee Ellis Ross during a recent meet up

Promotes Inauthenticity

Nothing about virtual influencers is real, including their very existence. They may be able to build a huge following, get to hangout with celebrities, and collaborate with brands to sell products, but they will never be able to provide the value that real-life people do. If anything, it is rather disturbing that human beings would prefer to take advice on what brands to use from an avatar with no real life experience of those said brands.

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Virtual Influencers
Sophia – Humanoid Robot

More Jobs Going To Robots

While the Internet has been credited with creating jobs, technological innovation has also taken a lot of jobs from hourly human workers, and it’s predicted to continue. It is reported that at a Gucci production site on the outskirts of Florence, Italy, there is a robot that makes sneakers. The restaurant industry has also embraced the world of technology with the roll out of concept stores. Some of the brands that have experimented with concept stores & kiosks are McDonalds & KFC. KFC reportedly has a human-free store in Shanghai with robots that take customers’ orders. South African retailer Pick ‘n Pay came under fire for its introduction of six self-service checkout counters at one of their branches. Many cashiers found the move suspicious, even after the retailer’s PR Company guaranteed there would be no job losses.

Virtual Influencers
McDonald’s Self Ordering Kiosk

Inclusivity & Diversity Advancement Compromised

London’s 29-year-old Cameron-James Wilson decided to challenge himself to “produce a defining piece of work”. In early 2017, after developing a few different female avatars, he had the idea for a striking picture: A South African woman from the Ndebele tribe wearing a multi-layered gold necklace. To create Shudu, the world’s first digital model, Cameron drew inspiration from different women like Lupita, Duckie Thot and Nykhor. The reality is that so much work has been done to ensure that the fashion and beauty industries represent black women well and to ensure that they get equal opportunities to their white counterparts. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing battle that will not be won overnight. But with that being said, we are starting to see black women of different shapes and shades and the LGBTQi community getting recognition from brands. The popularity of virtual influencers and models could derail all these efforts that were finally seeing the previously under-privileged groups getting ahead.

Virtual Influencers
Model Duckie Thot starring in a Balmain campaign
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