How the Humans Behind CGI Influencers Need to Adapt to Consumer Needs

Lil Miquela isn’t making as good of an impression as real people

A girl modeling in a colorful dress; the image is created from CGI
CGI influencers can't connect with their audiences, and it shows. Lil Miquela

Look at the Instagram of CGI influencer Lil Miquela. Now look at Kylie Jenner’s. Is there really a difference? Both have flawless skin, structured cheekbones, perfectly manicured eyebrows and posts that elicit an air of mystery aimed at generating buzz. Today, social media lets us play with reality, making it hard to discern between real and fake. Filters help us make our days sunnier, our faces dewier and our feeds happier. This blurry state of affairs has primed us for a rising social archetype: the virtual influencer.

Although today’s virtual influencers are sparking a fascination with brands and consumers alike, we have to question whether they have enough soul to have real influence. The intentions of today’s virtual influencers—or rather, their creators’ intentions—remain unclear. Has Lil Miquela taken life on social platforms to endorse products that she can’t even try on behalf of Brud, the company that created her, or is she a form of social commentary? Regardless, consumers want to know who is behind the curtain. A recent study found that 54 percent of 18 to 34 year olds agreed that they want to know who is behind the facade when it comes to virtual influencers.

With more than half of 18 to 34 year olds saying they would intentionally follow a virtual influencer and 55 percent of those who do claiming they have purchased something because of that influencer, it’s hard for brands to resist the novelty of virtual influencers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when thinking about creating or working with a CGI influencer.

Compelling creative comes from deep connection with and knowledge of the audience, something that CGI influencers inherently lack.

More creative control doesn’t always mean better content

By virtue of not being human, virtual influencers are easier to work with and creative clashes are at a minimum. But by the same virtue, virtual influencer can never have honest opinions or brand preferences. On the flip slide, the most successful social influencers are ones who only work with brands they value. These influencers know the trust they have with their fanbase is sacred, and they will only get behind brands or products they love. Additionally, they know what content works, how to experiment with new formats and how to be vulnerable.

Compelling creative comes from deep connection with and knowledge of the audience, something that CGI influencers inherently lack. This lack of connection is quantifiable. For instance, in a recent campaign, UGG worked with rising social influencer Luka Sabbat and Lil Miquela. Although both have a similar number of Instagram followers, Sabbat’s Instagram post garnered twice as many comments and likes than Lil Miquela’s post.

Chasing fads can only last with a long-term vision

It’s easy for brands to be lured by the shiny new robot that is CGI influencers (pun intended). But if intrigue turns into action and a brand wants to create its own, it needs to commit to a long-term strategy. What does the CGI’s existence accomplish that couldn’t be achieved with a human? Who will she be three years from now? And how can she tell the brand’s story while remaining authentic? With a human or robot, long-term brand partnerships are where influencer marketing is evolving. Brands like Mattel, Target and AT&T are pushing influencer marketing to the next level by treating influencers as ambassadors and creating serialized content, launching merchandise and hosting live events with influencers.

Bring CGI to life with video

For a brand to innovate in the CGI influencer space, it needs to think beyond static posts and instead experiment with video and new formats. Videos require real commitment from an influencer—CGI or human—and allow for richer and more creative content. Forty-four percent of respondents prefer videos over photos from CGI because video feels more authentic. Additionally, brands need to play with storytelling because the audience expects it. When asked what types of content they would like to see from CGI influencers, top responses included innovative formats like serialized video incorporating several CGI influencers and online scavenger hunts to reveal identities.

Without transparency, brands can’t have influence

Forty-one percent of those surveyed describe their favorite social influencers as authentic. In contrast, only 23 percent of those who follow virtual influencers describe them as authentic, and only 15 percent describe them as credible. Although virtual influencers can unite audiences, they lack the first two building blocks of real influence: authenticity and trust. To counter this, brands need to be transparent.

Today’s CGI influencers have been able to build audiences through pure intrigue, but once the mystery is solved, allure may quickly disintegrate. Like any celebrity, the rise and fall of a virtual influencer can happen as fast as a thumb-scroll, double tap or unfollow. What happens when audiences are no longer intrigued? Well, that’s when the humans behind the CGI will have to adapt.

Mukta Chowdhary is director of creative strategy and insights at Fullscreen.