Did you ever think you’d see a time when a fictional character took on the likes of Kate Moss and Kendall Jenner? Me neither. Despite this, CGI avatar Lil Miquela made it into Times Magazine’s 25 most influential people on the internet list.

Lil Miquela is a virtual avatar and fashion icon with 1.3M Instagram followers, a laundry list of luxury fashion collaborations and an affinity for human rights/ social causes. She’s also a PR coverage magnet.

While CGI avatar influencers sound like a bit of light-hearted fun, the team behind Lil Miquela’s creation, Brud, is in fact making significant income from her. Firstly, she has represented some of the most well-known global fashion brands. What’s more – the team has raised around $6M in venture capital funding. The digital dolls are going viral too.

African ‘model’ Shudu is another example of a GCI aviator influencer gaining more organic momentum in the fashion world. The brainchild of fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, Shudu has amassed 137k followers and is considered “the world’s first digital supermodel.”

How did we get here?

These virtual influencers didn’t just appear by chance. They aren’t built based on assumptions or personal preferences. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Their creators are equipping themselves with data in order to deeply understand what’s trending right now on a global scale, what millennials are responding to and how to merge these together. They carefully crafted CGI avatar influencers to resemble a version of the global ideal. We can see this from arming the digital doll’s posts with hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, to connecting Lil Miquela with popular social causes like donations to Black Girls Code. CGI avatar influencers are solidly stamping themselves as beacons of the liberal millennial generation.

Much like the data brands look at when choosing the right influencers to collaborate with, this is reciprocated when building an avatar persona. What does your audience care about? Where do they hang out? How can you best relay this message? What channel will you use to connect with them? How do you know if the message is resonating?

These are questions that brands using real-life influencers and companies creating virtual ones are asking themselves. No matter the type of influence companies are using, the answer to such questions can be found in the same place – online news and social media data. Any sufficient media intelligence tool such as Meltwater will assist you in uncovering such insights.

Brandfluencatars: Fake Humans, Real Influence.

Let’s talk ethics.

To say the fashion world is in the midst of technological disruption is an understatement. Are we witnessing a new industry in the making? Quite possibly. Much like any industry facing disruption, this is met with a mixed bag of emotions.

Similar to the critics looking at artificial intelligence and its impact on the future of work, some in the modelling industry are beginning to fear the worst. Ethical questions are being raised around the role CGI aviator influencers play when it comes to young women’s self-perception and potential unrealistic standards they’re setting.

CGI avatar influencers may also make a dent on the fashion industry’s bottom line.

Kelvin Boon, owner of NYC-based Boon Models stated, “People don’t connect with images that resemble cartoons… But if avatars begin to look like real people, it’s going to take a lot of power away from modelling agencies. Brands will only need human models for promotional events and walking the runways, and that’s pretty much it.”

He has a point. Why would a brand spend thousands of pounds to hire models and photographers for a single photo shoot when you can hire an artist to create images that have just as much influence for far less?

How CGI Avatar Influencers Came to Be

What Outside Insight can we glean?

As brands continue to seek out more ‘unique’ and international models to make their products stand out, the creators of Shudu and Lil Miquela are offering an answer in the form of a brand new offering.

Could this mean a rise in the need for visual engineers and a decline in the market for human models? It wouldn’t be surprising.

Instead of crying over spilt milk, the industry needs to roll with the punches and create competitive and agile strategies in order to continue to thrive.

Truth is, in order to stay one step ahead in your industry, it’s crucial to look beyond the four walls of your company. Monitoring trends in external data is key. The rise of CGI aviator influencers can have an impact on a number of stakeholders who would have seen this coming if they’d looked outside at the wider goings on in their industry.

So who should be looking out and keeping tabs on this movement? Models, influencers, fashion brands and agencies alike – as well as visual artists, AI engineers, CGI experts and more. At this point, keeping tabs needs to be a “sooner rather than later” task for such stakeholders.

To put this into perspective, Lil Miquela was created by a start-up that specialises in “robotics, artificial intelligence and their applications to media businesses” – definitively not a fashion company. Viewing Shudu’s popularity as a proof point, Wilson has gone a step further in launching an agency called The Diigitals. Diigitals looks to custom-build avatars like Shudu for luxury fashion brands. UK-based Irmaz Models are also following suit. Irmaz calls itself an Imagined Reality Modelling Agency. “Brands can specify the look they’re after, down to the race, gender and hairstyle,” Philip Jay, a former Playboy photographer and founder of Irmaz Models, told CNN.

Greater personalisation and customisation is exactly what brands and consumers alike have been craving and CGI avatar influencers look to only increase momentum as a result.

How to future-proof your strategy

With the modelling and photography industry starting to feel the effects of digital disruption, all eyes are now placed on future proofing strategies.

In order to remain relevant, engaging and ahead of the curve, brands need to truly get to grips with trends impacting their industry as well as industries similar to them. Using a media monitoring tool to keep track of industry keywords, the increase and decrease in their mentions, as well as their sentiment, is one way of future-proofing your strategy.

It’s also wise to keep track of what thought leaders are saying since they have their ears to the ground when it comes to industry developments.