See that person on Instagram? (S)he may not be real!


Lil Miquela, Shudu, Kizuna AI – who are these people?

Lil Miquela is a singer and model, and supports LGBTQ+ rights. She has two best friends, and a whole, colourful life. She is 19 years old, and posts a lot on Instagram. She is also not real. She is a digital avatar.

Shudu is the world’s first digital supermodel, and Kizuna AI is a virtual YouTuber.

What is ‘virtual’? It is something that is not real.

What is a virtual model? Lil Miquela is a bit of software, created by a company called brud, which uses computer-generated imagery to craft her. She models clothes that are made by luxury designers, and sings. Shudu is a supermodel who is shown wearing fashion label Balmain’s clothes on Instagram and other social media.

What is a virtual YouTuber? Kizuna AI is made by a Japanese technology company called Activ8. They have a technology that creates Kizuna, but she can interact with fans in real time! Unlike Lil Miquela, her form is Japanese anime, which a Japanese comic book art form. She is a musician.

Sounds cool, but why do we need virtual people? Computer programming and artificial intelligence are enabling pretty cool graphics and interactions. Some companies are creating these virtual people to be used for marketing. Lil Miquela has 1.6 million followers on Instagram (wow!), so there are quite a few people who are quite interested in what she is upto. She has modelled for Calvin Klein online for example. Her followers are interested in the life she seems to lead. She parties, she quarrels with people, and following her is like following a celebrity. Some of her 1.6 million followers will want her way of life – they will want to dress like her, or wear makeup like hers, or eat food like she does. This is where the marketing angle comes in – subtly. These followers will then seek out and buy things that will fulfill this desire of theirs.

Wait a second – don’t real people do this? Yes they do! Think of Roger Federer, sponsored by Nike and then Uniqlo. Or Messi with Adidas. When celebrities associate with a brand, you and I want to buy things from that brand sometimes. If Messi loves Adidas, then their merchandise must be good right? But real people can be unpredictable sometimes. They don’t always live their lives in a way that resonates with the brand. So some brands are trying out virtual ‘influencers’, who can influence us to buy their products.

Computer generated imagery and AI are making this easier.

Written by: Sunaina Murthy



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