21 January 2019
@lilmiquela was at the British Fashion Awards in December. Her Instagram was immediately inundated with her in head-to-toe Prada outfits, followed by a morning after the night before (perfectly posed) snap of her enjoying breakfast in bed. The caption even raved about the new filters she is obsessed with. Sounds like any normal run-of-the-mill influencer, right?
Sure. Except Miquela Sousa is a hyper-realistic CGI animation. In other words, an avatar. But not your run-of-the-mill avatar (if that even exists). Lil Miquela boasts quite the impressive CV with 1.5 million followers on Instagram, two singles on Spotify, a feature in Vogue, a campaign for UGG and a cover of Wonderland Magazine all under her digitally composed belt. She was also appointed as contributing arts editor for DAZED magazine in her third year of existence, which understandably ruffled a few feathers.
Miquela’s account launched in April 2016 and it has been linked to Brud; a Los Angeles-based start-up that specialises in robotic and artificial intelligence. To establish an air of elusiveness around the relationship between Miquela and her creators, Brud have created an elaborate narrative. Supposedly, Miquela was built by Cain Intelligence, a company from Silicon Valley who designed her with the sole intention of selling her as a servant. Brud then saved the day and provided her with a new life, became her family… and her managers. Complicated, I know. Stay with me.
Through a series of diary entries on Miquela’s Instagram highlights, she describes details of her life alongside the pressures of being an influencer. These personal accounts intentionally blur the line between fantasy and fiction as she shares her thoughts and emotions, even directly addressing the ‘robot thing’ as some ‘creepy sci-fi stuff’ that she tries not to think about.
Adding this dimension of emotional intelligence allows for consumer engagement through relatability. Audiences are able to connect with Miquela, forming a personal bond based on interest, trust and integrity. This type of connection between an influencer and a target audience is often utilised by brands as they guide purchase intentions through to repeat purchase, brand loyalty and ultimately, brand advocacy.
Time named Lil Miquela as one of the 25 most influential people on the web in 2018. She featured next to the likes of Trump, Rihanna and Kanye West in regard to her ability to globally impact social media and drive news, making it pretty difficult to deny her presence. The existence of these artificial influencers is set to disrupt the social industry as we know it; integrating a bot capable of using algorithms to understand consumer likes and dislikes in a social strategy could prove to be very powerful for brands. The most relevant products could be directed to a specific audience at a particular time, streamlining the entire process.
The development of robotic influencers poses some important questions for PR and marketing professionals. Would including the likes of Lil Miquela in a long-term strategy position a brand as super hip and cool? Would it appeal to the Gen Z and millennial audiences that so many brands just aren’t quite sure how to target? Or would there be uproar as these dystopian characters replace the influencers that have worked hard to create content for their organically generated audiences?
Delving deeper, the existence of artificial influencers could be a subtle nod to the superficiality of Instagram and the way social media marketing is progressing. Does a review of the latest skin product from an artificial influencer carry the same authenticity as a paid for #ad? My guess is that only time will tell. The future of artificial influencers is all too new to predict, but despite the minor logistical details, it is important to acknowledge that these industry players are very real.