Not too long ago, automation used to be about dumb robots doing predictable and repetitive tasks that humans didn’t like doing. Fast-forward to today, and we’re already trying to replace human labor in every way imaginable. The current target? Influencers and celebrities.
These so-called virtual influencers (CGI-made fictional humans) are becoming more popular by the day. And despite their obvious synthetic nature, brands seem to love working with them. In this article, we’ll list the top six virtual influencers you should check out.
What Exactly Are We Counting?
Before we start, note that we’re only counting the VIs that prioritize realism and have at least 100K followers on Instagram. We’re excluding the cartoony ones (like Barbie or Hatsune Miku), and those made for in-house marketing (like KFC’s Virtual Colonel) since they aren’t independent creators.
If you want to make sense of this, we’ve written a full article about virtual influencers and how they work.
But enough waiting around; let’s begin.
1. Lil Miquela
Lil Miquela (otherwise known as Miquela Sousa or simply Miquela) is a Brazilian-Spanish virtual model and singer created in 2016 by Brud—a startup based in Los Angeles. Given her ubiquitous online presence, this self-described 19-year-old “robot” is often the first name that comes to mind when thinking of virtual influencers.
At the time of writing, Miquela has over three million followers on Instagram, where she posts photos with celebrities, famous internet personalities, and other virtual influencers. She has also been interviewed by a number of popular online publications, including Vogue, Buzzfeed, the Guardian, Refinery29, and more.
She has released several original music videos, occasionally collaborating with other artists like Baauer, Lauv, and Teyana Taylor. She has also worked with Samsung, Amazon, Prada, Dior, Calvin Klein, and many other brands. In 2018, Miquela was listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet.
Imma (meaning “now” in Japanese) is the country’s first virtual influencer and one of the most recognizable faces on Instagram, thanks to her iconic pink hair and baffling realism. This Japanese model was created by Aww Inc.—a self-described virtual human company.
Imma first appeared on Instagram in October 2018 and had already gained 18,000+ followers by the end of January 2019. As of February 2022, she has over 350,000 followers and has partnered with brands like IKEA, Porsche, KFC, Magnum, Dior, Puma, Nike, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Amazon, Lenovo… you get the idea.
Imma is also a brand ambassador for True Corporation (a Thai telecommunication brand) and Watsons Water (a Chinese bottled water brand). She also made a surprise appearance at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Bermuda is an LA-based virtual “it girl” and an aspiring musician. Since first appearing on Instagram in 2018, her CGI realism has come a long way—with some of her recent photos making her look almost indistinguishable from a real fashion model.
Bermuda is a project of Brud, just like Lil Miquela, and has over 270,000 followers at the time of writing. What’s interesting about Bermuda is that she was initially created as a virtual political figure to promote alt-right propaganda. She used to support Trump, deny climate change, and mock liberal movements.
Bermuda later evolved to reflect new views, as mentioned in this Instagram post . However, her controversial personality—as mentioned by Refinery29 —remains her strong suit to get attention. In April 2018, she “hacked” Lil Miquela’s account—deleting all her photos. Bermuda also demanded that Lil Miquela “tell people the truth” about her virtual identity and their creator.
It was earlier rumored that Bermuda is the creation of Cain Intelligence, a rival company of Brud. But that was just a (successful) PR stunt designed by Brud itself to create drama and gain media coverage. In September 2019, Bermuda’s appearance was updated for reasons unknown to us—as you can see in this Instagram post . Quite a storyline, eh?
Created by The Diigitals, a Weymouth-based digital modeling agency, Shudu describes herself as “the world’s first digital supermodel” from South Africa. “I wanted to create a really strong and powerful image that celebrated a beauty I don’t see represented in media often enough,” says photographer Cameron-James Wilson, the vision behind Shudu.
At the time of writing, Shudu has over 224,000 followers on Instagram and has worked with Samsung, Cosmopolitan, The Dubai Mall, WWD, Vogue, Balmain, Chanel, Bulgari, and more.
She has been praised by high-profile celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Alicia Keys, and Tyra Banks—with the latter reposting one of Shudu’s images thinking she was a real model. She was also recognized by Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s cosmetics brand.
Rozy is South Korea’s first virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X. Currently sitting at 113,000+ followers on Instagram, she is not much different from other VIs on this list. She likes traveling, modeling, yoga, and adventure sports.
Since her creation and first appearance on Instagram in August 2020, she has signed more than 100 sponsorship deals. These include the likes of Calvin Klein, Maison Margiela, Hera Beauty, and most notably, the South Korean company Shinhan Life Insurance who she models for in the video above.
In 2021, her estimated earnings amounted to a whopping one billion Korean won (~$833,000 USD). According to Baek Seung Yeop, the CEO of Sidus Studio X, the company has plans to give Rozy a unique voice and cast her in movies, K-dramas, and other entertainment shows. As more South Korean giants turn to her as a replacement for celebrities to avoid controversy, Rozy’s popularity may increase rapidly.
Where Are Virtual Influencers Headed?
Although we’ve had CGI technology for decades, virtual influencers are still a relatively novel invention. There are so many other newer VIs that we couldn’t include in this list like Koffi , Ayayi , and Zinn , simply because they aren’t that popular yet. However, their realism is quite shocking. As more companies begin to partner with VIs, their appeal will grow stronger.
In virtual environments such the metaverse, where people are accustomed to customizing their profiles, VIs may soon feel like an integral part of that universe. With the tech we have today, it’s already really hard to tell real from fake. And as we get better at this, the line between real and fake will cease to exist.
Virtual Influencers Are Here, but They Won’t Fully Replace Humans
There are a lot of interesting conversations to be done about the rise of VIs and how they will affect us. While some may see them as a natural progression of synthetic media, others worry about the moral and ethical problems they impose.
Either way, virtual influencers are here to stay simply because they are insanely efficient marketing tools. They are cheaper, less controversial, don’t fatigue, and can be anywhere at any time. It’s very unlikely that they will completely replace human influencers and celebrities, but they probably won’t go away anytime soon either.