Meet Shudu, the CGI model who recently fronted a Fenty Beauty (you know, Rihanna’s brand) advert. Not to mention Lil Miquela, who most recently promoted Prada’s Fall 2018 show. They’re cool. They’ve got swagger. They have massive amounts of followers.
They’re also as fake as you get, the online figments of marketers’ imaginations.
First there was fake news. Now there’s fake influencers. Mankind has always created fictional characters for us to be inspired by – from tv characters to pop star alter egos like Ziggy Stardust and Gorillaz. The difference today, according to Creative Review’s Florence Evans, “is merely the medium in which they come to life and, arguably, the perceived separation between themselves and our reality.”
As we already happily tune in to social media influencers‘ hyper-edited lives, we don’t mind making the small leap of faith required to follow every move of these flawless computer-generated it-girls.
Lil Miquela has appeared in fashion gear by Chanel, Supreme and Vans and her first single, “Not Mine”, became a Spotify hit. Her success, writes Evans,
…is, counterintuitively, down to her realness. What Miquela holds that others ‘virtuals’ don’t is a set of values and beliefs that she remains true too and others can identify with. She uses her platform as an activist, openly supporting movements such as Black Lives Matter and organisations like Black Girls Code. This depth of character is what allows Miquela to jump the tracks of the virtual world. Maybe she is real after all, just not human.
BBC: The fascinating world of Instagram’s virtual celebrities
BBC traces the rise to fame of Shudu, who with her long limbs and perfect dark skin set off a manhunt for her identity once she made her Instagram last year. Many were disappointed – and somewhat relieved – to discover she was virtual, the computer-generated creation of photographer Cameron-James Wilson. Who was stunned by her success.
BBC reporter Damian Fowler even conducted an email interview with aforementioned Lil Maquila, asking her what she thought about “virtual celebrities”. Miquela’s reply:
I think most of the celebrities in popular culture are virtual! It’s been disheartening to watch misinformation and memes warp our democracy, but I think that speaks to the power of “virtual”. Eventually “virtual” shapes our reality and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about using virtual spaces like Instagram to push for positive change.
Medium: What The **** is a micro influencer?
“Because we left macro influencers in 2017,” writes Tristan Tarpley on The Startup/Medium. He thinks you should think twice before paying up for a celebrity endorsement, whether that celebrity is real or not.
The word on every marketer’s lips these days: micro influencers. These are people with many followers, but few enough to dole out personal treatment to these people. Because once you round 100.000 followers, your personal touch is bound to wane. For Micro Influencers, however,
…every one of their followers are a friend. The clout and trust that they carry allows you to derive the same benefits as a friendly referral — higher purchase price, less negotiation, shorter sales cycles, longer life cycles — while tapping into a larger network of people in your key demographic.
A study refered to by ZDNet actually concludes that micro-influencers are 10 times more likely to influence purchases than celebrities and are changing the way that brands do marketing.
Trouble is, they’re micro – meaning hard to find. Which is why some companies have specialized in finding and vetting these influencers.
ZDNet: The real frauds are having a ball
The value of micro influencers to marketers has opened the flood gates for gate crashers – influencers that are indeed real, but have added fraud to the mix, boosting followers and likes. According to ZDNet,
Fake accounts, likes, and comments flood social channels such as Instagram as influencers jostle to be noticed by brands with big budgets. Influencer fraud is a growing issue in an industry worth over $1 billion which means that the market is ripe for fraudsters to take advantage of influencer popularity.
Check our source list below for more great finds on the topic.