AI Has Introduced a New Social Media Influencer: Robots
Many believe that influencing is a relatively new tactic that advertisers have adopted as a result of popularity among social media platforms. However, as we dissect the long and complex history of influencing, it is remarkable to observe how it has continuously adapted, evolved, and embraced new dimensions over time.
Early stages of influencing
Before the start of branding which allowed for the differentiation of products and vendors, we saw kings, queens, and other people of high status hold great authority over citizens in their communities. For example, in 105 BCE high-ranking gladiators would be depicted on posters advertising the matches in an attempt to promote the event and acquire more interest in the city.
With the evolution of branding as a pivotal factor in business success, marketers wasted no time in forging alliances with celebrities and influential figures from their communities to amplify their brand’s visibility. An illustrative example from the 1800s spotlights one of history’s most influential brand partnerships when Nancy Green was chosen as the iconic face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Although the Aunt Jemima brand has been discontinued in more recent times, the enduring memory of Aunt Jemima remains intact, largely due to the popularity and impact of this historic collaboration
Influencing in the 21st century
Since then, influencing has transformed due to the constant evolution of the digital landscape and influencers have largely turned their efforts on Social Media. Because of the rapid popularity on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, the definition of influencers has expanded, allowing anyone, no matter their social status, to have the ability to become an influencer. Furthermore, the world of influencers has adopted a more structured approach with the introduction of various tiers, including nano and micro-influencers. Brands now find themselves with a diverse array of options when seeking the ideal influencer to align with their specific products, aligning with their strategic objectives.
However, a critical development in this sphere is the newfound emphasis on the depth and authenticity of influencer-brand partnerships. It is no longer sufficient for influencers and brands to collaborate merely for the sake of visibility; the partnership must resonate with meaning. This entails a harmonization of values and alignment of niches between the influencer and the brand. This synergy, perceived by consumers, underscores the significance of a purposeful connection in the world of influencing.
Like many aspects of society, social media influence is ever-changing and refuses to be confined to any set of rules. In recent years, a remarkable phenomenon has emerged, challenging the very notion of human presence in the influencer domain. Enter the era of virtual influencers—entities that, intriguingly, exist solely in the digital realm, yet present themselves as if they are humans through various social media platforms.
These virtual influencers are essentially defined as robots and are computer-generated to replicate human characteristics. One of the most famous characters in this space goes by the name Lil Miquela and has partnered with highly influential brands such as Alexander McQueen and Mattress Firm. What has been most evolutionary about these campaigns is that brands have also started including real celebrities in the photos with Lil Miquela as if she is a real human. What sets these campaigns apart, however, is their revolutionary nature; brands have begun incorporating real-world celebrities into images alongside Lil Miquela, blurring the line between reality and the digital realm. A noteworthy example is Calvin Klein’s collaboration that united the virtual influencer with the iconic Hailey Bieber.
Although Lil Miquela is one of the first fictional characters to gain popularity on the internet, many others are entering the same space such as Imma. With almost 400 thousand Instagram followers, brands have swiftly recognized the allure and potential of these digital natives, and eagerly seek out partnerships to tap into their vast online influence.
With the rising debate about virtual influencers, it is clear to see the attractiveness of these kinds of deals from a brand’s perspective, especially when looking at cost. To partner with a Human influencer the cost can cause a huge setback for brands, especially smaller ones, limiting their access to those with larger platforms, especially when wanting to recruit big-name celebrities such as the Kardashians. However, virtual influencers offer brands exposure on high-ranking profiles with thousands of followers at a much lower rate. As mentioned earlier, Lil Miquela has massive influence on Instagram with a jaw-dropping 2.8 million followers, and yet reported from an article back in 2020, she charges roughly 12,600 USD per sponsored post.
Beyond their cost-effective advantages, teaming up with virtual influencers brings an added layer of security and versatility to the table—qualities often in short supply when dealing with human counterparts. Since virtual influencers lack the unpredictable nuances of real-life personalities, they inherently reduce the risk of getting a brand in controversy or drama, a pitfall that has proved common in past collaborations. Furthermore, their digital nature allows for unparalleled adaptability and effortless fine-tuning of an image to ensure a flawless representation of the brand. Whether it’s donning a specific clothing piece from a fashion brand or tailoring the visual aesthetic to align seamlessly with the brand’s target audience, these virtual entities offer a level of precision that transcends the limitations of their human counterparts.
Although this up-and-coming way of marketing may seem like a great idea, we mustn’t blur the lines between reality and computer-generated imagery. As time goes on and editing software enhances, brands should have to disclose when their models are non-human, thus preventing any potential confusion. Although this may sound absurd it is important to note just how similar they can appear to a human.
Moreover, there’s a pressing concern surrounding the realm of AI deepfaking—an area where digital replicas of real individuals are generated. While some, like the Messi-Pepsico partnership, employ this technology ethically, the legal and ethical landscape surrounding such practices remains nebulous due to its novelty. Consequently, celebrities have started to take precautions over their image rights, preventing the possibility of duplication and usage for unauthorized brand promotion. Overall influencers of all types must take precautions to save themselves from future controversies or misconceptions.
In conclusion, AI’s boundless potential continues to manifest across various domains, exerting a transformative influence on our lives. For marketers, this burgeoning landscape offers unprecedented opportunities. As we stand on the precipice of this digital revolution, the ever-evolving sophistication of AI promises to revolutionize the means by which brands connect with their target audiences