03 Mar Ai-Influencers
A few months ago, I was casually scrolling through my feed on Instagram when I noticed Essence Cosmetics shared a post, welcoming someone new to their team. While this is pretty common for smaller businesses, it’s not really something we see from big cosmetic brands, unless it’s announcing the new CEO or face of the brand. So, while it seemed strange to share that a new intern had joined the team, it wasn’t exactly the reason the post had stopped me in my tracks.
You see, what really had me gob-smacked and thinking WTAF was that Essence Cosmetics’ new intern, Kenna, was not at all real and when comments started popping up asking why Kenna wasn’t real, Essence revealed that Kenna is, in fact, a “girlbot” – a term that was completely foreign to me, and one that raised many questions. A deep dive through the comments of the post, lead me to discover a sub-genre of influencers, called AI-Influencers that up until then, I didn’t even know existed.
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In February 2018, Harpers Bazaar shared an interesting feature on the Instagram model named Shudu, who you might have seen modelling for the likes of Fenty. Her flawless dark skin and striking features paired with her editorial-style Instagram account have you quickly convinced that she’s on the cusp of breaking the modelling world, and with her beauty, why shouldn’t she? Truth be told, Shudu is the creation of London-based photographer Cameron-James Wilson, who admits in the article that she is not a real model and that he used a 3D modelling program to create her. He went on to explain that Shudu is a way of exploring his creativity and that a single image, like the one seen on Fenty’s Instagram, takes several days to create.
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If you think this is a bit strange, don’t worry… it gets weirder, in fact, Shudu is just the tip of the iceberg. When you start taking a look at the likes of Miquela, an AI-influencer with 1.9 million followers on Instagram, you start questioning what is real anymore. Miquela is one of the most successful AI-influencers who has collaborated with loads of brands including Prada, has her own album, sells merch and shares her artificial life on Instagram, including pics and videos with her boyfriend, friends and celebs.
Truth be told, Essence, Fenty and Prada are not the only brands making use of AI-influencers. Balmain announced last year that it now has a “Balmain Army” that features AI-models Margot, Shudu and Zhi who showcase the latest designs from its BBox line. There’s even a dedicated modelling agency for digital models, started by none other than Shudu, herself.
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While I find the entire thing absolutely fascinating and can understand that these creators are looking for a way to express themselves, it’s surely something to be concerned by? We’ve already seen how the highlight-reel of Instagram has negatively impacted mental health by making people feel worthless, so how will the lives of flawless bots perpetrating a real-life impact the lives and mental health of a younger generation? The artificial and flawless bodies, high-life and fame that is being portrayed is unrealistic, which is unsurprising, because well… it isn’t real!
But here’s my big question – why can’t brands just use real-life models and influencers? Why are they leaning towards this SIM-like world, where they’re almost encouraging an unattainable lifestyle. And, why, did Essence Cosmetics feel the need to introduce an AI-intern? Was it just to have some fun? Or is there a bigger play at hand?
In their first caption welcoming Kenna, Essence Cosmetics goes on to say, “She’ll be using her special skills to assist our product development team. It’s safe to say we’ve never had anyone quite like her on the team. Do you have any questions for Kenna? Comment below and she’ll answer personally!” From this, I am gathering that they’re not just using an AI to be the face of their brand, but rather AI technology to predict trends and how their audience will respond to new products. It also hints that perhaps they’re using AI to respond to comments.
If they are using a sort of AI to automatically reply to comments, it’s a clever way to drive up engagement. Up until now, it might have seemed unrealistic to reply to that many comments, but if you have an AI looking for keywords and replying automatically, you’re creating the fake-illusion of taking the time to connect with your audience. Think about it, suddenly, a massive, international company has taken the time to reply to YOUR comment asking about a mascara, which then has a domino effect and creates a sort of brand-loyalty because they make you feel heard.
I think this is especially true for Essence Cosmetics’ girlbot, Kenna. If you start scrolling enough through comments, you start recognizing patterns. Whenever someone questioned whether she was real, why she looked photoshopped or like a robot, Essence would promptly reply with something along the lines of, “she’s our girlbot *robot emoji*”
Kenna having the technology to notice trends through social media is doubtful, because if she could, she’d have noticed that her mere presence is starting to push customers away, with some comments expressing that they feel unheard by the repetitive replies, that the robot is off-putting and resulted in them unfollowing the brand online, and that the use of a girlbot to promote their brand has left a bad taste and has even stopped customers from using their favourite products from Essence Cosmetics.
Customers had some valid questions too; why does the AI have to be so perfect and pretty? She does not represent a “normal” or “average” customer and makes their content unrelatable. In addition, an interesting point that I had not considered myself was the fact that there’s girls, teens, and young adults who would love to intern for the brand – they represent the brand’s biggest market, so why not use someone who actually relates to their target audience as an intern or to create their content? Why encourage dysmorphia and take jobs away from people who would likely do a better job it anyway?
Honestly, I find the entire thing perplexing and wish that the brand would move away from this “trend.” It leaves too many questions unanswered and while they might have thought that AI provided instant connection to their audience, they are only pushing their customers further away. It would be far more beneficial to show real people that we can relate to, using their products. No one can trust a swatch on an AI-influencer, and no one has flawless skin – so why, on earth, are they using an AI to represent their brand?
I’d love to know, what are your feelings on this? Do you think AI-influencers are the future of beauty marketing or do you think they should leave the marketing to real-people? Leave your comments below!
A career-driven mom & recovering people-pleaser, fluent in bad jokes & over-thinking. Trying to escape real-life one fantasy romance novel at a time.