At the very highest end of haute couture fashion shows, you’d probably see an influencer but wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the influence of science fiction or computer games.
Yet Louis Vuitton – a brand you only ever see dangling off the world’s fanciest people – have been known to pay homage to everything from Minecraft to Final Fantasy character Lightning on the catwalk. And when one of fashion’s most distinguished names brings out their own Stranger Things t-shirt, you know that something big has changed. And it’s changing influencer marketing.
That ‘big something’ is a dramatic blurring of cultural lines – a glorious mixing up of elegance and entertainment. A sort of Netflix and Chic, if you like.
And when you combine this with the incredible technological advances in virtual and augmented reality (and even artificial intelligence) new possibilities open up for every marketing discipline – not least influencer marketing.
The first rule of influencer marketing club is: authenticity. So, by that logic, we should only ever be able to influence and inspire an audience through real people, sharing real parts of their lives.
And, like all good logical assumptions, this notion is being seriously wobbled by – yep – smart technology mixed with a cultural landscape that’s been turned upside down.
To prove this, you could simply have a chat with Lil Miquela – the world’s first computer generated influencer.
Now, you may find seeking inspiration from a machine to be weird, or unappealing, or even slightly creepy. But, not only does Miquela have over half a million Instagram followers, she even popped along (sort of) to Fashion Week in a collaboration with Prada.
She’s not even the only virtual voice in the influencer marketing game, with the stunningly beautiful Shudu emerging as the first ever digital supermodel. In fact, Shudu was so convincingly created, that photographers would DM her through Instagram hoping to arrange a shoot!
So, if an influencer made from pixels can earn herself half a million followers, are we saying that you don’t have to be real to have real influence. Well, kinda.
After all, this isn’t an entirely new state of affairs. The Gorillaz have been one of the biggest bands in the world for many years, and have sort-of paved the way for the rise of the virtual influencer.
And anyway, it’s not like we’ve never interacted with a virtual being before. Just consider how many of your most productive chats in the day are with Alexa or Siri.
What concerns some people is that, with an idea like Shumu, we are distorting not only the flawed reality of human beauty – but also undermining the celebration of real images that makes a place like Instagram so powerful.
And while Lil Miquela (or rather, her programmers) have used her popularity to raise awareness of important causes like Black Lives Matter and transgender rights, there is a lingering doubt that an influencer who says anything you want it to say smells suspiciously like manipulation.
But whether the rise of the virtual influencer is your idea of an exciting future – or a nightmarish ‘upside-down’ for your Instagram feed – we can’t see anyone pulling the plug on digital influencers any time soon.