Back to all articles

Rising (virtual) stars: Navigating the potential & pitfalls of AI influencers

Elina Andrus
Elina Andrus
Content marketing manager
6 min read
10 May 2024

Instagram users first met Lil Miquela in 2016, a Brazilian singer with flawless features and a penchant for streetwear. But Lil Miquela had a secret. Unlike other rising stars, she wasn’t real. Created by Brud, a digital advertising agency specialising in CGI, Lil Miquela was the first of a new breed: the AI influencer.

Typically developed and managed by creative agencies, these virtual influencers are not just faces on a screen – they have backstories, interests, and opinions. Their social media feeds are carefully curated with trendy outfits, stunning visuals, and engaging captions.

They are extremely profitable for their creators, generating revenue through brand partnerships. Miquela, for instance, brings Brud around $10M yearly

But are they just as beneficial for brands? Let’s explore the potential and pitfalls of AI influencers and whether you should consider leveraging them. 

Game changers

In 2023, half of marketers who worked with AI influencers described this experience as very positive, and 37.4% said their influencer marketing outcomes significantly improved thanks to AI. 

Most started using them because of the tempting offer of complete control over messaging and the ability to target specific demographics with pixel-perfect precision. Imagine a virtual influencer perfectly embodying your brand values, engaging directly with your target audience in their preferred language – the possibilities seem endless.

In 2020, IKEA partnered with Imma Gram, a virtual influencer known for her quirky style and love of home decor. Imma showcased how to style IKEA furniture in her unique apartment, offering decorating tips and inspiration to her followers. This collaboration felt natural, as Imma’s personality aligned with IKEA’s target audience and brand image. 

Partnerships with AI influencers can save you time and money. You no longer need to find an effective team, organise the location and logistics of the shootings, etc. What’s more, AI influencers are not constrained by legal restrictions, scheduling, or travel difficulties. This makes your collaboration efficient and stress-free. And because their work doesn’t demand things like changing appearances, the terms of the collaboration can last as long as it suits both parties. 

To resonate with your specific target market, AI influencers can be custom-designed so precise targeting is no longer a problem. Age, gender, interests, and even location can be factored into their creation, ensuring brand messages reach the audience most likely to convert. 

And if you want to optimise your campaigns for even more engagement, AI influencers will give you a treasure trove of data. Every interaction, comment, and like can be tracked and analysed. This real-time feedback will help you refine your messaging and tailor content to what resonates best.

Aiming to expand its reach in China, Tesla partnered with local AI influencer Ling. More than 420,000 people follow the star on Weibo, the Chinese analog of X, giving partner brands a reliable way to reach potential customers. 

This campaign utilised AI influencers to speak directly to specific cultural preferences and languages. Ling connected Tesla’s high-tech to Chinese tradition and aesthetics, making the brand more relatable to regional audiences.

Beyond the hype

Despite the benefits of AI influencers for brands, consumer perception of them is still evolving. While some find them engaging, others question the lack of authenticity.

Can a computer-generated personality truly understand and connect with the nuances of human experience? This skepticism can translate to a lack of trust in the brand associated with the AI influencer, ultimately hindering the marketing campaign’s effectiveness.

Consumers also expect transparency from influencer marketing to make informed choices and trust recommendations. AI influencers can’t fully experience the products they endorse. They can’t try on clothes, feel cosmetics on their skin, or taste that limited-edition soda, so their advice can be suspect and less effective.

This makes 43.8% of marketers highly concerned about the ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI influencers and, therefore, skeptical about their use in marketing strategies.

In addition, current AI technology can restrict creativity and adaptability. AI influencers often struggle with humour, sarcasm, and the nuances of human interaction. Their responses and content can feel scripted and repetitive, failing to capture the spontaneity and engagement that human influencers excel at. This lack of creative spark can lead to uninspired campaigns that fail to grab attention or generate genuine excitement.

The constant bombardment of perfectly curated online personas could further blur the lines of reality for consumers, impacting their perception of social media and even their self-esteem. 

In fact, most teenage girls and young adult women have been influenced negatively by social media retouching and face-tuning apps. Polished content from AI influencers likely has the same effect. Some of the comments under such posts prove that people don’t always understand that AI influencers aren’t real. 

In this case, you as a brand can lose customers, your overall campaign impact could be limited, and your brand growth hindered.

A strategic guide, not a quick fix

At DEPT®, we think AI influencers are a promising tool with potential, but not a silver bullet. 

The future of influencer marketing lies in a strategic blend of human and AI influencers. We might see AI influencers take on specific roles within a campaign, perhaps handling product demonstrations or data-driven content creation. But because AI can’t replicate the power of a personal story or relatable experience, human influencers will continue to be the ones building customer trust.

In any case, campaigns use multiple marketing channels for a reason, and influencers should be considered one of them, not a fix-all solution for every marketing problem. Let existing AI tools keep making personalised product recommendations while real (human) influencers add their personal POV.

Want to shape your influencer marketing strategy? We can help