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Trends & Insights | Blog

The rise of AI influencers

March 6, 2024


In 2023, a Gen AI gold rush swept the world. In 2024, it’s time to use the tool to capture transformative marketing value. Are AI influencers the answer?

Jack Bray

Content Manager

The arrival of ChatGPT in November 2022 saw businesses hurry to use the game-changing tool, enticed by the prospect of enhanced productivity and performance.

For marketers ahead of the curve, however, AI has represented more than just an efficiency gain for some time. While many are using the tools to  support content creation, the emergence of AI influencers in recent years has been revolutionary.

What are AI influencers?

AI influencers, also referred to as virtual influencers, virtual personas, or virtual models, are computer-generated fictional characters designed to interact with and engage audiences for marketing purposes, most often on social platforms.

The concept of these virtual models traces back to the 1980s with characters like Max Headroom, and within Japanese idol culture. However, it wasn't until 2016 with the emergence of Lil Miquela, created by the Los Angeles-based company Brud, that the concept started to gain traction and widespread popular appeal. 

A fictional American singer and social media personality, Lil Miquela is proof of the reach enjoyed by virtual influencers. With 2.6 million followers at time of writing, Miquela has worked with major fashion brands including Chanel, Givenchy, Calvin Klein and Prada. She’s even become a celebrity in her own right, collaborating with musicians and actors such as Rosalia, Millie Bobby Brown and Nile Rodgers.

She’s not just a brand mouthpiece though. In fact, her advocacy extends to campaigning for societal causes that she ‘believes’ in, whether that’s Black Lives Matter or reminding her audience to vote during the 2020 United States election campaign.

It’s no surprise that brands around the world have started to create their own virtual influencers to come for Miquela’s crown. Here are a couple of personas that stand out…

Lu do Magalu

Introduced in 2003 as the spokesperson for Magazine Luiza's e-commerce platform, Lu do Magalu has since become the world’s most prominent AI influencer. A Brazilian digital personality boasting 6.8 million Instagram followers, Lu do Magalu can most easily be compared to a contemporary YouTuber, specialising in unboxing videos, product reviews and software guidance. 

Shudu Gram

Shudu Gram is another interesting use case and arguably the world’s first digital supermodel. Created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, Shudu has been used to ask interesting questions about race and relatability in the virtual space since her creation in 2017. The character has worked with major fashion publications and companies, including Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Balmain, securing 241k followers on Instagram. 

It’s in the game

The gaming industry is perfectly prepared for the rise of the virtual influencer. Gamers have worked alongside non-player characters (NPCs) for decades and it’s this logic that has made characters like Riot Games’ Seraphine so successful. Based on a playable character from Riot’s League of Legends, Seraphine’s AI counterpart acts as a songwriter, producer and - in her own words - “feeling catcher”. Seraphine currently has 354k followers on Instagram. 

Another interesting trend that has sprung up in recent years, blurring the lines between AI and human influencers, is platforms like Twitch promoting VTubers – online entertainers playing games for the entertainment of millions. In many cases, these streamers will use a virtual persona on screen while the commentary is provided by a real person.

Benefits of AI influencers

AI influencers are blending cutting-edge technology with new and captivating storytelling methods to transform the landscape of modern influencer marketing. Some of the core benefits for brands include:

  • Cost: virtual influencers are naturally less expensive than traditional celebrity endorsements. They’re also incredibly profitable, making their creators tens of thousands of dollars a month. At the top end, Lu Do Magalu is said to make around $16.2m a year thanks to big brand deals.
  • Brand consistency: virtual models are great at upholding a uniform brand identity on various social media platforms, regardless of the content creator.
  • Unlimited creative possibilities: digital influencers can craft compelling and inventive content that human influencers may not be able to due to expense or location.

  • Influencers without borders: AI influencers are accessible to individuals worldwide, irrespective of the content creator’s location. Accordingly, their speech and message can also be localised to specific geographies more easily than human influencers.

  • 24/7 availability: once trained, virtual influencers can interact with fans and share content around the clock, even after regular business hours.

Drawbacks of AI influencers

While the benefits above are likely to appeal to many brands, it’s also important to be aware of the drawbacks and responsibilities they have to consumers…

  • Ethical concerns: advertisers have expressed concerns that artificial influencers can mislead and deceive consumers. 
  • Transparency: brands must be clear with consumers regarding the non-human nature of their AI influencers.
  • Audience acceptance: brands should anticipate pushback from consumers as the concept of the virtual persona isn't universally embraced. Many view them as posing a challenge to human creativity and authenticity. 
  • Uncanny: there’s the issue of the uncanny valley. Digital influencers don’t age, and they don’t have the same day-to-day problems faced by their audiences. Over time, users may start distancing themselves from the artificial and move towards something more genuine.
  • Going rogue: some have been known to break character in embarrassing and offensive ways. In 2016, Tay, the artificial intelligence chatbot from Microsoft, began to post inflammatory and offensive tweets through its Twitter account. It’s not a perfect science, so brands beware!

  • Sexism: many influential AI personalities are depicted as women characters. Unfortunately, this representation is not all positive, with some perpetuating harmful or unrealistic beauty norms and, at their worst, objectifying women as sexual commodities. When portraying women via virtual models, companies must do so equitably and without leaning on negative stereotypes.

Future of AI influencers

Like them or not, AI influencers are here to stay. Ongoing improvements in natural language processing, machine learning, and computer vision, means that artificial influencers will become even more sophisticated in their interactions and content creation. These personas will start to seamlessly integrate into the fabric of our digital lives, from personalised product recommendations to virtual companions offering lifestyle advice. The result? A continued blurring of lines between real and virtual worlds.

As AI technology becomes more accessible and affordable, we may witness a democratisation of influencer marketing, with individuals and businesses of all sizes harnessing the power of AI to amplify their brand presence. 

That’s not to say human influencers are dispensable. The unique qualities of humans, including authenticity, emotional resonance, and adaptability, will continue to set them apart. This is especially true as we navigate crucial conversations around ethics, transparency, and the broader societal implications of AI influencers.

In the immediate future at least, we can expect 2024 to be the year when major brands start to experiment with virtual personas. According to Ogilvy’s 2024 Influence Trends report, 63% of marketers are planning to use AI tools in their influencer campaigns in 2024. 

To learn more about how we can help, check out our influencer services and email hello@battenhall.com to speak to one of our team.