Social Media Influencers? It's Time for Virtual Influencers Now!

With the consumer rapidly seeking new experiences, luxury marketing companies are on their toes to come up with smarter strategies. Welcome virtual influencers, who do all the work, minus the hassles

By: Abhay Gupta, Luxury Expert, Author, Speaker, Professor of Luxury Management

Posted on: June 25, 2019

Lil Miquela Instagram Virtual Model Influencer

Meet ‘Lil Miquela’, a Brazilian-Spanish virtual influencer, Instagram model and music artist claiming to be from Downey, California. Lil Miquela, full name Miquela Sousa, is the latest in the world of Social Media Influencer marketing. Since 2016, Lil Miquela has picked up quite a fan following with over 1.5 million followers on Instagram. The biggest draw for fans and brands to such influencers:

Miquela does not exist. Well, in the real world sense.

Lil Miquela is a fictional digital character and a digital art project which began in 2016. Over the years, she has engaged with fans using her digital presence across social media channels sharing stories as she goes on and about with her daily digital life. 

Margot Shudu Gram Zhi  Balmain Instagram Virtual Model Influencer

Lil Miquela is not alone. Another digital influencer created by The Diigitals, Shudu Gram, is considered to be the world’s first digital model. There are already digital startups working on creating an entire fleet of such virtual influencers complete with individual personas, preferences and dislikes, virtual lives and life events for drama. A recent life event included an account hack by a fellow digital influencer that created a social media sensation. Today, several digital influencers exist from various backgrounds offering their services as influencers for top brands. While Shudu Gram was recently spotted in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty lipstick in an Instagram post that went viral, Miquela regularly promotes Prada and Chanel through her social media, among other brands.

Lil Miquela and other such influencers are not the first of their kind, per se. Purely in terms of digital influence by a fake group or character, various characters have been used time and again for brand marketing and endorsements. Fido Dido was a character created for a 7 Up commercial, who also has his own social media channels. Other cartoon characters come to mind as well. However, one group that comes close to the concept of digital influence based on entire personas, with the creators being anonymous or hidden from popularity, would be the British virtual band ‘Gorillaz’ that was created in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. The band primarily consists of four animated members: 2D, MurdocNiccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. Fans got to become a part of their fictional universe via music videos, interviews, and other short cartoons released over the years. Gorillaz has an online presence and has endorsed or partnered with several brands for promotions as well. 

Lil Miquela Instagram Virtual Model Influencer

Just as in the case of Gorillaz, the modern day virtual influencers have an entire profile complete with causes they associate with, people they follow, their followers and needless to say, brands and products they endorse. There are social causes that the digital influencers associate with, charities they donate to, movements they support and are even aware of the latest events and hence address them on their social channels. This allows digital influencers to live a more real ‘digital life’ and better connect with like-minded fans and followers. At the onset, brands did worry on the efficacy and abilities of digital influencers to actually ‘influence’ their followers as real-world influencers are able to. The large fan followings and thousands of likes, comments, and tweets per post have since eliminated any such concerns. 

The Choice Dilemma - Real or Fake Influencer

A core concern that digital influencers eliminate for brands is the issue of the real brand ambassadors and associated influencers getting involved in scandals that may lead to negative publicity. For example, if a brand ambassador or an associated social media influencer gets involved in a scandal that leads to a public outcry, the negative media attention on the brand is highly risky for the brand’s image and for its stock value. Cleaning the brand’s image post-scandal then becomes a major concern combined with the legal hassles of disassociating with the influencer or the brand’s image. Various such examples exist where actions of real-world influencers have caused concerns and created trouble for the associated brands. 

The Kardashians

Digital influencers, on the other hand, are controlled by entities who have created them. Generally, such digital entities have a large team of creators involved and due processes are to be followed, which eliminates any chances of wrongdoings from a virtual influencer. 

The creation of virtual personas solely for the purpose of promoting brands highlights the shift towards the new trend and it’s easy to see why a number of brands have already associated with Lil Miquela, Shudu, Margot and others and other such virtual influencers. 

The primary operative model is on similar lines as with real social media influencers, however, in a more controlled environment. Additionally, working with a virtual influencer is a lot easier because of various logistics issues being eliminated. Celebrities may not be available on days the brands may need them for a shoot. With virtual influencers, the angles, the colors and the imagery is a lot easier to manage since all of it, in any case, is created from scratch. So there is more control on how the end visual would look like. This is more of a challenge with real world influencers wherein a lot of post-production is required to get the desired results. 

The key benefit from using virtual influencers is the target demographics. One can always create new influencers to target specific audiences. Lil Miquela has a huge fan following from Millennials and Gen Z. Creators can similarly create further influencers who are age-similar, have specific looks and background stories that target specific demographics, immediately attracting more followers made of the specific audience they need. It becomes a win-win for the brands and the creators of the influencers. 

Shudu Gram Instagram Virtual Model Influencer

Whether this is just a trend or a long-term winner, remains to be seen. However, what stands true for now is the fact that there already are several virtual influencers filling the digital world with their influence, have millions in followers,are going viral by the day, and top brands are already lining up to have their products endorsed.


Abhay Gupta Luxury ExpertAbhay Gupta is the founder, promoter and CEO of Luxury Connect (a boutique consulting organization) and Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS). He has helped establish luxury brands like Versace, Versace Home, Versace Collection, Corneliani, Arredo Classic, etc in India. Luxury publication Blackbook recognizes him as one of the ‘Top 100 Indian Luxury’s Most Influential’ for the past 6 years. He is also a recipient of the ‘Luxury Retail Icon 2012’ title by Asia Retail Congress. Having being featured in Forbes Luxury Trend Report 2012 as one of the industry leaders, he has also been widely recognized as a luxury expert by many media organizations. Fondazione Altagama has also recognized his contribution to the growth of Italian luxury industry by his pioneering efforts in India.

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