It all started with @lilmiquela, an AI Instagram project set up in 2016 by the company Brud, for advertising purposes. With a swift glance, Miquela, who now has 3.1 million followers, could easily be mistaken for a real human. But she’s not. 

So what does Miquela represent on a bigger scale? Put shortly, the future of PR. AI creations are notably easier to control than real people. Despite the advantages, social media provides for the brand-celebrity relationship, the branding of individuals as commodities raise “conceptual, practical and ethical issues”. The process of self-celebrification and self-branding is similar to the branding of a product, meaning that individuals “benefit from having a unique selling point, or a public identity that is singularly charismatic and responsive to the needs and interests of target audiences”. The issue here is how to balance an individual’s innate human character and a set of carefully defined and maintained attributes that make them appeal to the masses. Herein lies a major issue; the inconsistency of the human commodity. This is also the case with traditional celebrity endorsements, but significantly with Social Media Influencers, we’re talking about higher levels of social media output and notably more exposed personal lives. The natural change humans go through regularly, means that the consistency of the self-brand is much harder to sustain than inanimate commodities. That is why AI influencers are opening new doors for brands. With the authenticity of influencers, but without the human aspect, AI characters can provide brands with both engagement and security.

Credit: @lilmiquela / Instagram

More recently, I was online shopping and was shocked to see AI models showcasing clothes on the La Fam Amsterdam Website ( AI is not unheard of in fashion, Miquela has featured in ads for Calvin Klein alongside Bella Hadid, and in 2018 Balmain announced 3 AI models, Margot, Shudu and Zhi as part of the Balmain Army. However, it’s not something I’m too used to seeing just yet.

Credit: Calvin Klein

AI doesn’t stray that far from the world we’ve created for ourselves online. Heavy editing and unrealistically posed pictures turn the real us into something fake. So what is so different about making something fake seem real? AI models also pose many benefits to the fashion world including brand exclusivity, reduced liability, and reusability. But this doesn’t mean they come without their drawbacks. We can expect to see more and more AI models and influencers popping up on the scene, but we should ask ourselves who is behind them, for what purpose, and do these fake beings have the right to speak on real-world issues? For example, Shudu is a black female, but her creator is a white male, does that give him access to a world beyond his person? Or is it more problematic than it is clever?

Credit: @shudu.gram / Instagram

An academic source was used in this article, please refer to: 

Khamis, S., Ang, L., Welling, R. 2017. Self-branding, ‘micro-celebrity’ and the rise of Social Media Influencers. Celebrity Studies. 8(2), pp.191-208.

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