Disrupting the Kardashians: the evolution of branding
She’s woke, with Princess Leia buns and the aesthetics of a high fashion version of Kylie Jenner. She’s mysterious, approachable, well travelled, with famous friends and enemies, a rising music career, a fan base of more than 1 million followers and modelling work with mythical brands like Prada, Balenciaga, Chanel and Proenza Schouler. She has a life to envy of. Except she’s not alive.
Lil Miquela is one of many rising CGI superstars that are taking the social media sphere and modelling world by storm. Supermodel Shudu Gram, created by London based photographer Cameron-James Wilson, has sparked conversation around cultural appropriation, as the model made of 0s and 1s has managed to break barriers in fashion that models made of flesh and bone have struggled with (makes you wonder — are we more welcoming to an algorithm, rather than to another human being?). Digital enhanced humans and humanized digital creations compete for our attention online.
Perhaps Influencer hasn’t been featured in the top jobs threatened by A.I. lists going around so far but here we are. Lil Miquela and her peers challenge our perception of reality, authenticity, and trigger discussion around ethics and what defines influence in an emerging mixed reality world. Lil Miquela hasn’t disclosed if apart from her music and modelling has made money as an Instagram influencer so far, but Brud, the company behind her persona recently raised millions from big names in Venture Capital like Sequoia Capital and SV Angel. According to Bud landing page it is “specializing in robotics, artificial intelligence and their applications to media businesses.” Are CGI personas though more than just media experiments and perfectly flawed models?
Social media influencers, apart from promoting brands, have ventured in launching brands of their own. Influencer brands are growing rapidly, many already established as household names, bringing in hundreds of millions in sales annually. The Kardashians have built an empire on their selfies. Huda Beauty, Kayla Itsines, Kat Von D, Maverick by Logan Paul , It’s all Wild by Eva Gutowski are only few of the success stories built in the recent years. Casey Neistat used a series of daily vlogs to launch his new venture, a collaborative space in New York for creators, 368.
One can not but assume it won’t be long before virtual influencers launch their own very real brands and brands will launch their own virtual influencers.
This would not be the first time we’ve seen virtual personas express a brand’s voice on social media: @DKNY PR girl and @OscarPRgirl were the highlights of Twitter for a fashion moment, although now a thing of the past. Will CGI personas survive beyond the hype? That is something we have to wait and see, but the hard trend is that brands need to showcase consistency in an increasingly mixed reality world, where business is becoming more and more personal. A brand’s visual and verbal identity are expanding in assets and growing in importance. In a mixed reality world, user personas not only reflect but help shape a brand’s visual identity. The rise of social media has put brand voice front and center, and today, voice interfaces have added a new dimension. Brands need to think of their verbal identity in terms of sound as well. On the same note, CGI personas can be the glue that brings together verbal and design identity, the embodiment of a brand’s core elements.
From this viewpoint CGI personas can serve as more than a customized army of sterilized, “safe” influencers, they can be the alchemical expression of branding and user experience as one, and a pure manifestation of a company’s DNA and vision.
“This is a very complicated world. This is a noisy world. And we are not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us — no company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.” — Steve Jobs
What are your thoughts on CGI personas and their role moving forward? Let me know in the comments :)