Sunday, December 31, 2023

"Meet the New Influencers: Artificial Intelligence"

Jobs the robots will do.

First up, the headline story from Bot Populi, May 26:

Examining the influence of virtual beings on social media in the context of fashion, advertising, and more.

‘Hacks’ to learn different Indian languages, personal finance advice, and cooking recipes, Satshya Tharien’s Instagram posts cover a wide range of interests. Satshya, who “began creating short-form videos on Instagram when the Reels feature was released in 2020”, has over 290,000 followers on the platform. She has in her short stint as an influencer/content creator tried her hand at different types of posts like comedy, edutainment, cooking, and more to figure out what kind of digital content goes viral.

Just like Satshya, Kyra is a Mumbai-based influencer trying to grow her audience on Instagram. With 211,000 followers at the moment, Kyra identifies as a Meta influencer with her Instagram bio describing her as a “dream chaser, model, and traveler”. Kyra has had a busy start to the year as she partnered with Budweiser India to promote one of the world’s largest music festivals, Lollapalooza.

Interestingly, Kyra is currently 21 years old and will remain so for the next decade. This is because, unlike Satshya, Kyra is not real. She’s a virtual influencer (VI) created by Himanshu Goel, co-founder of FUTR STUDIOS. Goel and his team “created” Kyra during the second half of 2022.

“In 2021, we realized that almost every country with a high internet population had, at least one VI, barring India. So, after waiting a couple of months to see if anyone else was planning on creating one, we took the opportunity and created Kyra,” says Goel, whose team took three months to create a virtual being from scratch and deliver her to our Instagram screens.

The term influencer has many meanings. For the scope of this article, an influencer can be understood as “someone who holds social power and shapes the behavior of others through their words and actions”. A VI or virtual influencer is viewed as “an entity, humanlike or not, that is autonomously controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) and visually presented as an interactive, real-time rendered being in a digital environment”, which also holds massive social power.

VIs have gained tremendous popularity and followers in recent years owing to the rise of virtual reality (VR) technologies, Big Tech’s accelerated push toward the Metaverse, and brands expanding their focus on social media advertising.

Complexities of Virtual Diversity
The first instance of a VI was back in 2016 when an Instagram account by the name Miquela Sousa started gaining traction. Sousa’s account (or as she’s now commonly known, Lil Miquela) was shrouded in secrecy, and only when she ‘came out’ as a robot in 2018 did most people know that she’s not real. But it didn’t stop her from being listed in TIMES’ ‘most influential people on the internet’ list in 2018, endorsing products for Calvin Klein and Prada, and having a “224% higher post reach than the other influencers who have a similar number of followers”.

Today, the list of VIs is long, including Lu do Magalu from Brazil, Thalasya from Indonesia, Shudu from South Africa, Imma from Tokyo, Bermuda from Los Angeles, and Rozy from South Korea. Interestingly, most of these VIs primarily focus on fashion, including India’s Kyra. “Kyra’s interests lie in fashion, travel, and lifestyle. So, in case we publish a post in collaboration with MG Motors (to promote their cars) we will still spend a lot of resources on getting Kyra’s outfit right and presenting her in a fashionable manner. That is the chief focus of our content,” says Goel. Similarly, VI Shudu, created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, is big on fashion and calls herself “the world’s first digital supermodel”. According to reports, Wilson “claimed that he wants to use Shudu to encourage diversity in the fashion industry” as Shudu is particularly hailed for her “flawless dark skin”.

The first instance of a VI was back in 2016 when an Instagram account by the name Miquela Sousa started gaining traction. Sousa’s account was shrouded in secrecy, and only when she ‘came out’ as a robot in 2018 did most people know that she’s not real.

Industry experts believe that VIs are set to take over the fashion and advertisement sector, with Juniper Research estimating that the global fashion industry’s investment in AI technology amounted to USD 3.6 billion in 2020. However, when influencers – be they real or virtual – try to ‘influence’ fashion for particular audiences, questions of representation and authenticity, already a prickly subject in the domain, acquire new complexities....


The above was brought to mind—and dredged out of the link-vault—by a story at the Financial Times, December 28:

How AI-created fakes are taking business from online influencers
Hyper-realistic ‘virtual influencers’ are being used to promote leading brands — drawing ire from human content creators

Pink-haired Aitana Lopez is followed by more than 200,000 people on social media. She posts selfies from concerts and her bedroom, while tagging brands such as haircare line Olaplex and lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret.

Brands have paid about $1,000 a post for her to promote their products on social media — despite the fact that she is entirely fictional.

Aitana is a “virtual influencer” created using artificial intelligence tools, one of the hundreds of digital avatars that have broken into the growing $21bn content creator economy.

Their emergence has led to worry from human influencers their income is being cannibalised and under threat from digital rivals. That concern is shared by people in more established professions that their livelihoods are under threat from generative AI — technology that can spew out humanlike text, images and code in seconds.

But those behind the hyper-realistic AI creations argue they are merely disrupting an overinflated market.

“We were taken aback by the skyrocketing rates influencers charge nowadays. That got us thinking, ‘What if we just create our own influencer?’” said Diana Núñez, co-founder of the Barcelona-based agency The Clueless, which created Aitana. “The rest is history. We unintentionally created a monster. A beautiful one, though.”

Over the past few years, there have been high-profile partnerships between luxury brands and virtual influencers, including Kim Kardashian’s make-up line KKW Beauty with Noonoouri, and Louis Vuitton with Ayayi.

Instagram analysis of an H&M advert featuring virtual influencer Kuki found that it reached 11 times more people and resulted in a 91 per cent decrease in cost per person remembering the advert, compared with a traditional ad.

“It is not influencing purchase like a human influencer would, but it is driving awareness, favourability and recall for the brand,” said Becky Owen, global chief marketing and innovation officer at Billion Dollar Boy, and former head of Meta’s creator innovations team.

Brands have been quick to engage with virtual influencers as a new way to attract attention while reducing costs.

“Influencers themselves have a lot of negative associations related to being fake or superficial, which makes people feel less concerned about the concept of that being replaced with AI or virtual influencers,” said Rebecca McGrath, associate director for media and technology at Mintel.

“For a brand, they have total control versus a real person who comes with potential controversy, their own demands, their own opinions,” McGrath added.

Human influencers contend that their virtual counterparts should have to disclose that they are not real, however. “What freaks me out about these influencers is how hard it is to tell they’re fake,” said Danae Mercer, a content creator with more than 2mn followers....


Things are moving pretty fast. And accelerating.