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Marketing

Here's How CGI Influencers Can Improve Your Advertising Strategy in 2019

AI-powered avatars are now taking on active roles in the influencer marketing industry. Here's what you need to know.
Here's How CGI Influencers Can Improve Your Advertising Strategy in 2019
Image credit: Zoe Dvir
Serial entrepreneur and engineer
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Influencer marketing has grown to become a standard advertising practice over the last few years. Influencers help brands to sell their products and services to the Millennials and Gen Z demographics without coming off as overtly promotional. 

Related: Managing Your Marketing Risk For Greater Returns

Influencers typically have a large social media following, they subtly drive the direction of trending topics on social media, and they initiate virality to brands, or events that they put on the spotlight.

As 2019 gets underway, the global marketing industry is seeing an extraordinary level of disruption as a new breed of influencers – CGI Influencers – step into the limelight. 

CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery and CGI influencers are simply AI powered avatars that are now taking on active roles in the influencer marketing industry. 

CGI Influencers started making their debut in 2016 but they came into limelight last year when Brud, an LA-based startup brought CGI influencers alive on Instagram. In this piece, I will provide insights into why CGI influencers might be the future of advertising.

CGI influencers are making waves in the marketing industry

Lil Miquela is the most popular CGI influencer with more than 1.6 million Instagram followers. Bermuda was created as a ‘rival’ of sorts to Miquela and she has more than 126K followers on Instagram. Blawko is Bermuda’s on-off CGI influencer boyfriend with a 135K following of his own.

Related: Beginners Guide To Digital Marketing In South Africa

Shudu, created by London-based photographer Cameron-James Wilson is branded as the ‘World’s First Digital Supermodel’. She has garnered 157 000 followers and she’s represented brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and luxury fashion house Balmain.

We developed Zoe Dvir with a unique backstory that translated into relatable and authentic persona resonating through her slogan ‘You’re amazing just the way you are’. In the last several months, Zoe has been building a vibrant influencer status with more than 30 000 followers already on Instagram. 

Other startups have created CGI influencers of their own with a presence across international fashions scenes while other avatars are springing up in different industries in different parts of the world. 

Following the money on CGI Influencers

According to Statista, the influencer marketing industry is growing at 50% annually and it will grow from $1.3 billion last year to be worth $2.38 billion on Instagram alone by the end of this year while it continues on track to cross the $6 billion milestone by 2020.

Interestingly, the advertising clout of CGI influencers is not limited to Instagram alone. For instance, virtual YouTubers have generated more than 500 million views since they started posting video content on YouTube in 2017. 

Investors and VC firms are also aware of the potential opportunities in the CGI influencer market and startups developing CGI influencers have not had trouble raising money over the last couple of years. 

For instance, Brud, the startup behind Miquela, has raised money from Silicon Valley juggernauts such as BoxGroup and Sequoia Capital. It is currently valued around $125 million after raising between $20 million and $30 million in its last round of financing.

Apart from the current role of CGI influencers in the advertising industry, there could be opportunities to develop their characters with full backgrounds, powers, and aspirations that could lead to comics, product deals, movie series or Netflix shows.

Brands are betting big on CGI Influencers

CGI influencers are still relatively new, but some big brands are already going out of their ways to accommodate them in advertising campaigns.

Cyan Banister, a partner at Founders Fund one of the earliest investors in Brud in an interview with WSJ observes that CGI influencers are becoming popular with brands because “you can create the Kardashians without any of the inherent issues that come with being human.”

Related: Tap Into Customer Emotions For Marketing Success

Miquela has featured paid partnerships for popular brands such as Calvin Klein, Richard Quinn and Tinder. Our very own Zoe Dvir has advertised a Tel Aviv-based restaurant called Poke and another coffee shop called Cafenato.

Here’s how CGI influencers can improve your marketing 

CGI Influencers provide you with greater creative control

Humans beings are unpredictable, we allow our emotions to cloud our judgements, and we usually make irrational decisions.

By implication human influencers can be unpredictable and this unpredictability often leads to creative clashes between brands and influencers.

Such creative clashes when not property managed could lead to controversial posts that could end up embarrassing the brand. 

With CGI influencers, you can have a measure of control over your brand story in order achieve the desired outcomes. Because CGI influencers are not autonomously sentient beings, it is often easier for brands to use them to experiment with different kinds of content without necessarily causing the influencer to risk a reputational damage.

You can adapt them to your brand story

CGI influencers have shown that they are adaptable to suit the needs of different brands and audiences. First off, CGI Influencers are simply computer code; hence, they are not limited by the physical constraints of time and space.

They can go to try out a restaurant on Thailand while simultaneously modeling a new designer line on a runway in Milan. The fact that they live in a VR world also means that they can possess a wide variety of skills and abilities for different kinds of brand messaging for different audiences.

You get a chance to control the narrative

The CGI influencer industry is doing an excellent job in giving the avatars relatable backgrounds that contrasts sharply with the seemingly fake lives that people live on Instagram and other social media platforms.

For instance, Lil Miquela has a proper name, Miquela Sousa and she is a 19-year old Brazilian American singer. Bermuda has a boyfriend and the occasional frenemy and relationship issues.

Related: Why The World's Most Successful Brands Place Purpose At The Heart Of Their Business Strategy

CGI influencers also seem to have their personalities cultivated to have a take on social and political issues. Hence, their followers often don’t seem to find it odd that these influencers don’t exist in real life.

What does the future hold for CGI influencers?

Critics seem to be making premature generalizations to write off CGI influencers. They claim that the key to influencer market it to be authentic and its practically impossible for a CGI influencer to be authentic when (s)he is not even a “real” human being.

Interestingly, the Gen Z and Millennials demographics that are being targeted for influencer marketing don’t seem to care that their opinions are being subtly shaped by virtual avatars. 

A study conducted by TBH showed that 55% of  18 to 34-year-olds surveyed won’t mind following a brand because CGI influencer.

More than half have bought something because of an influencer and only about 42% of the people surveyed were interested in knowing who is behind their virtual influencers.

The next couple of years will provide more insight on whether CGI influencers will merely co-exist with human influencers or displace human influencers from the marketing value chain.

Related: The Most Important Lesson I Learnt While Building The Sorbet Brand

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