The Selling Power of Fake Instagram Influencers

Lil Miquela (Image via Refinery29)

At first glance, model Lil Miquela looks like every other Instagram influencer. She posts pictures paired with clever captions, collaborates with brands and even had beef with another influencer. Like other Instagram models, critics accuse her of being fake, but unlike some of those models, Miquela hasn’t gone under the knife. She doesn’t need to. Lil Miquela isn’t human.

Created by the LA-based tech company, Brud which specializes in artificial intelligence and robotics, Miquela is a computer-generated image. So how exactly did a CGI accumulate 1.2 million followers and get listed on Times’ 25 Most Influential People on the Internet?  Miquela didn’t receive overnight popularity. People have been fascinated with Miquela since she created her account back in 2016.

Back then, not much was known about Miquela, and people were interested in finding out more about her. Even Shane Dawson, the king of YouTube, investigated to find out who Miquela really is. Fast forward two years, the secret is out, and Miquela is no longer the only CGI model posting pictures on Instagram.

Even though Miquela isn’t human, brands are lining up to work with her. Her Instagram followers have seen Miquela pose in Diesel and Moncler and partner with Prada and Giphy. But Miquela isn’t the only CGI model enjoying success. CGI supermodel, Shudu, created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, received massive attention after Fenty Beauty reposted a picture of the model “wearing” Rihanna’s Mattemoiselle lipstick, and ever since the viral post, Wilson received numerous offers from fashion brands and even tech companies hoping to work with the world’s first CGI supermodel. But this new area for brands to profit from comes with some controversy.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that influencers make it known to their followers that they are working with a company by adding #ad or #sponsored to their captions, but it’s not clear if those rules would apply to virtual models.

“The FTC doesn’t have specific guidance on CGI influencers, but advertisers using CGI influencers posts should ensure that the posts are clearly identifiable as advertising.” an FTC spokesperson told CNN.

When it comes to new products, people usually believe that their favorite celebrity will introduce them to a decent item, but can the same be said for influencers like Miquela? CGI models can’t try on clothes and tell you how the material feels or in Shudu’s case, they can’t tell you if the lipstick is patchy. “They’re not real people, so they can’t give a totally authentic endorsement.” Adam Rivietz, co-founder and CSO of the influencer marketing company #paid, told Wired.

Lil Miquela 3.jpg
Lil Miquela’s popularity seems to be only growing. (Image via  V Magazine).


Why exactly would a brand want to partner with a CGI influencer? The answer is simple: control. Companies have more control when they collaborate with a virtual influencer than with an actual person. Corporations won’t receive backlash for an influencer’s offensive social media post or shady past because there is an entire company running the CGI influencer’s account, and CGI models can’t make human mistakes. Brands can control when the post comes out, how the campaign looks and what way they come out.

Back in April, another CGI influencer, Bermuda “hacked” Miquela’s Instagram and refused to give back the account until Miquela told the world that she’s not human. Even though the two CGI creations did not partner with a company for this publicity stunt, I think this “hack” perfectly illustrates why brands are attracted to CGI influencers.

Miquela x Bernuda.jpg
Brud created both Miquela and Bermuda further highlighting that the “beef” between the two influencers was planned. (Image via Trending All Day).

With that amount of selling power it can be easy to only use the account to make as much money as possible, but luckily Miquela uses her platform to discuss important topics such police brutality and the issue of family separation.

“The internet is endlessly powerful, and that power has been wielded in many ways. It feels like we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle, so we’ve got to learn how to leverage these tools in positive ways. “Miquela told Highsnobiety through an email mediated through her publicist. “I’ve used my platform to raise real money for important organizations throughout LA, and I’ve seen lives change as a result.”

You may find the idea of a CGI model a bit silly, but with the growing popularity Miquela is receiving, she certainly won’t be the last CGI model to trend on Instagram. Let’s just hope that all of the incoming models will have the same positive impact that Miquela has on her followers.


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