Samsung has recently announced a tie-in with Lil Miquela, who is the perfect ambassador. She never sleeps, doesn't eat, would never say anything off-message and will never be found snorting illegal substances in a nightclub. The point is, she doesn't really exist. Although she kind of does because the avatar that is incredibly lifelike has 1.8m Instagram followers. Hence, the interest from Samsung.
There is already a two-way relationship flowing. Samsung is hosting content from Lil about social media popularity and Lil is posing with Samsung kit which, of course, she loves. Apparently she's a musician? I'm still not sure I get how a figment of someone's imagination can be an anything. But there are plenty of pictures of her in the studio, so it must be true, right?
I was talking to Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, the company that can advise brands on whom they should work with, based on a AI-driven analysis of the market, including weeding out influencers with too many fake followers.
He is upbeat about the future of the virtual influencer.
He sees it as continuation of the parody account history or Twitter meeting the "always my best self" that people like to show off on Instagram.
It combines a "newness" that intrigues people to follow a virtual influencer, and brands know the campaigns will always be safe because that the "person" they are working with won't embarrass them by going off the rails or tweeting offensive material elsewhere.
Hence, when someone hits on a great character that resonates with a key demographic, then they too -- like the people behind Lil Miquela -- will be able to start signing the big six-figure influencer deals that real people can enjoy.
Where this goes is an interesting question. Ryan agrees that this could be gold dust for the likes of a Disney or Marvel. Characters from movies could have their own carefully scripted accounts, which charge big money for promotions, just as the movies do that they appear in.
Completely new characters are also likely to be built out of nowhere to appeal to different demographics, be that a midwest guy with conservative views, a "soccer mom" or a millennial hipster who knows all the best places to eat.
This will be a fascinating area to watch -- and just in case you're wondering, Ryan has taken a quick look at Lil Miquela's following (not a full dive with AI kit).
He reckons the account looks pretty normal, meaning that it has no more bot followers, visible to the casual observer, than one would expect from anyone else with nearly two million followers.
If his first impression is right, it means this can be done without the need of sending bots to like your virtual avatar. It's something humans are showing they are seriously into.
Right now it's early days, but mark these words, this could be a whole new era for influencers. Definitely an area to watch.