The dig on influencers is that many come across as fake. The duck-lips, peace sign, selfie whores, as I tend to think of that segment of the influencer world, seems to live lives that none of us could imagine. And few of us couldn’t imagine them living them, either. When everything is perfect in your online world, you come across as fake. And that means your influence is fake because it’s not transparent. It’s superficial.
Keep in mind we’re probably talking about 10-20 percent of the total roster of influencers out there. Many have lots of followers and know how to get attention, so they seem to be the only people many think of when they think of influencer marketing. But the small segment that doesn’t have a lot of substance has given influencer marketing a bad rep. That’s another topic altogether.
The fake influencers I want to talk to you about today are the real fake influencers … err … um … the actual fake influencers … err .. um …
The Clone Army of Fake Influencers is Being Built
There are influential accounts on Instagram being built to cultivate an audience right now that show a typical lifestyle influencer — posing, visiting places, reviewing products and the like — and the person in the pictures you see is an avatar. As in a computer generated person.
Vice rolled out an interesting story this week about the phenomenon, which is — of course — happening first in Japan. It tells of Liam Nikuro, an upcoming Insta-fluencer with about 15,000 followers. He’s living the good life. He’s even chilling out with Post Malone in the recording studio. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
View this post on Instagram
Hanging out with Posty ( @postmalone )! His rockstar artist lifestyle inspires me. I had the chance to meet and get to know him last year through a friend and was reunited again this week. Even thinking of hopefully doing a collab with him sometime! 久しぶりにPostyとHang out! 生き様が超Rockしてて、 すげー尊敬してるアーティスト。 音楽仲間に紹介してもらって 仲良くなったけど、 「なんか一緒にコラボ実現させたいね」って 話してるよ! #2020 #postmalone #LiamNikuro
That’s a real post. But one of the two people in it is not. Liam (the one on the left in case you don’t know who Post Malone is) is a 100% computer generated, Photoshopped-in, representation of a person. Not a real person.
He’s generated by a company called 1Sec. And he’s not the first of his kind. Imma Gram (@imma.gram) was created in 2018 by a company called Modeling Cafe. She has 176,000 followers. And she’s 100% computer generated. (Or at least is a computer compilation of computer generated effects placed on edits of real pictures.)
It seems this is a viable way for companies to make money in Japan. And that means it will bleed out to other countries and companies soon. Perhaps you may have read about @JustaConstructionGuy, the actor-as-influencer account created by a coffee company in Texas? It’s not that manufactured influencers don’t exist in the U.S. yet, but I don’t know of any that are avatars … or holograms … or hologrammers … or influ-turfers … or pixel pimps …
(We’ve gotta come up with a name for these things. But I digress.)
It makes sense, from a business perspective. Instead of paying actual influencers to talk about or share information about your product or service, always being subject to their “editorial” control, why not create a viable influencer who gather the audience you’re looking for, that you not only can tell what to do, but can control every move, character, response, partnership, product endorsement and beyond?
From an audience perspective, it has the potential to be a huge fail or a huge success. Instinctually, I tend to think it will be the former. When brands take over the messaging of a platform, it tends to destroy the platform. And consumers generally don’t like being lied or sold to. Some people will refuse to follow an “influencer” because they know it’s a fake trying to manipulate their buying decisions.
But then again, it may just work.
Are Fake Influencers the New Entertainment?
So, one argument is that we as consumers would have a problem watching a machine-generated person being directed to enact aspirational poses in inspirational places doing incredible things and meeting indelible people. But isn’t that all we’ve ever done with our entertainment channels? Aren’t movies and television shows just fantasy escapes from our everyday lives?
What makes this any different? Is a hyper-real cartoon played out on Instagram any different than the hyper-real adventure we pay attention to every time a Star Wars movie comes out?
Before we get comfortable in the saddle of our high horses, let’s think for a minute that this is just a new take on an old habit. Some people may not think it’s cool, or genuine, or even morally acceptable. But a lot of people may just think that Liam is the kind of dude they want to be. He’ll inspire them to wear certain clothes, participate in certain activities and eat at certain restaurants.
There is an entire industry in this word that centers around manufactured celebrity through fantasy. Brad Pitt and George Clooney aren’t who their movie characters are. We don’t really know anything about them, personally. And yet millions of people buy millions of magazines and visit millions of websites and watch millions of videos to decipher who Brad Pitt and George Clooney are. Why? Because they aspire to be like them.
What 1Sec is doing is creating a manufactured celebrity to give a certain number of people someone to want to be like. The only difference is in the medium.
Would You Follow a Fake Influencer?
Liam isn’t for everyone. I wouldn’t follow that account. But I’m also old enough to be Liam’s father. If he were a real human. I don’t aspire to be young and hip and stylish, so he’s not for me. But he will be for a lot of people.
What if a 50-something lifestyle influencer that I enjoy seeing in my feed turns out to be a computer avatar manufactured and controlled by Johnson & Murphy? Well, I’d probably keep following them. I dig those clothes, even if they don’t make any that fit guys my size.
Would you either choose to, or continue to, follow an influencer who you knew wasn’t real? If the answer is “yes” then why? If they answer is “no” then tell me the same. And then explain to me why you follow brands, magazines, businesses or even animals. Because that is kind of the same thing.