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Opinion

What Are the Ethical Implications of CGI Influencers Promoting Brands?

Jeremy Haile, founder of Sideqik, questions the ethical implications of CGI influencers promoting brands on digital platforms.

Control is the ultimate and the successive penultimate for strategy that the brands care about. The reality encircling its human counterparts is complex and unpredictable. They are answerable to society for every stance they pose. Could they be manipulated? To some extent, maybe. But they are yet to master the art of it, unlike their CGI counterparts.

CGi influencer Miquela has a human doppelganger – British model, activist, and body-positive Instagram influencer Emily Bador. In an Instagram post, she was seen vocalising on the importance of self-love irrespective of physical attributes that the society has laid down as norms for an ideal lady. She has admitted to being the inspiration behind the creation of Miquela.

Therefore, if Miquela is the virtual alter ego of Emily, is there a need for Miquela? She of all the CGI models will always remain to be the same 19-year-old Miquela with the signature aesthetics that would be hard for her human counterpart to achieve. Attaining such beauty standards is either not viable or it will take a toll upon your physical and mental well-being that you would follow the same path as Bador to be vocal about the issue of body positivity.

Why CGI influencers?

Brands always want to have that edge over their competitors in the market. In a generation of digital natives, wouldn’t it be a revolutionary idea to leverage their online existence to churn out some real profit? There comes the CGI influencers. Miquela is the most followed virtual celebrity among her top 25 most followed human counterparts such as the likes of Kanye West and Donald Trump.

She has endorsed products for top brands like Calvin Klein, Prada, Samsung and many more. She might be virtual but her growing follower base is real. With her Instagram stories and posts, she has increasingly percolated through the layers of her follower’s heart, but here the evergreen question comes up.

Stance of CGI influencers, in case of an ethical dilemma?

Of all things we can agree that CGI is unreal, and that:

  • It speaks what it is told to
  • It speaks how it is told to

Thus consistency greatly increases. Any brand could have plummeting sales if the brand is portrayed among its customers as an inconsistent one. Controlled by their coding masters, they have complete control over their speech, content, and expression luring in its target customers into that hypnotic zone wherein rational thinking gives way to impulsive buying behaviour and you start treating them as your everyday real influencers.

But, what are the implications of them promoting brands? What would they do in case of discrepancies?

  • What oversight mechanism? – is there any human intervention in the loop?
  • How resilient are they? How accurately and reliably they could deliver?
  • What is their data governance framework? – do they respect data privacy?
  • How Transparent are they on their stature of not being human beings? How Traceable are their digital footprints?
  • How much accessible are they? – do they have a diverse follower case?
  • Societal impact? – How sustainable are they?
  • How much accountable are they? How much auditable are its building blocks?

If all these questions are answered, we will have a well-regulated framework for ethical guidelines of AI resources.

Questioning the ethical implications of CGI influencers promoting brands on the digital platform

If you really look into the promotion side of the story for brands, it is actually working magic for them in case popularity was the key bringing in a lot of sales opportunities. But coming from the other side of the same coin arises a question that these influencers seem to pose in the society of people being brand advocators and that question is of “ethics”. So, giving this question a thought let’s walk over how and why these ethics are worth considering the impact, these influencers have on the buying behaviour of the population.

  • What you see vs. what you don’t

This is a very thought-provoking question, to put it what you see on screen is Lil Miquela and her never-fading beauty, her flawless younger charm and everything that describe an influencer. Now, taking you to the part which you don’t see. The artificial modelling that goes behind that ever-perfect persona of these influencers.

Lil Miquela, Shudu.gram or whoever the CGI model is, they are not what the human eyes perceive. Their appearance might be human-like, but in the broad daylight, they are nothing but codes, binary digits programmed by the IT experts to run brand promotions and in turn earn profits. How would you feel if told, the exquisite person behind that summer body you’re obsessed with, the clothes you buy after seeing them killing the look, that bag you bought after getting impressed with how she carries it – that person just doesn’t exist.

It all boils down to a human with a mug of coffee coding that viral aura around it. How shocking is it to know, that we get influenced by people who are just codes? Well, keep thinking about it, because that’s the way it is.

  • The ‘luring mirrage’

If you look at the social media handles of these CGI influencers you will be surprised to see the number of people who follow them, admire them, and love them. But, what most of us do not know is that the lifestyle they portray and the storylines they have, doesn’t really exist and neither do they. So, what you are looking at might be pleasing to the eyes, but it’s just fake reality that could be used to manipulate the way you feel about yourself and influence your buying behaviour. To put it straight, it’s just a “MIRAGE” which attracts you magnificently towards it. But in reality – all that shines are not Gold and their hypnotic aura might already lure you into the endless cycle of Impulsive Buying Behaviour.

  • Looking through the ‘mirror of lies’

If you look at the study by Fullscreen, “42% of Gen Z and Millennials who have followed an influencer, didn’t know was CGI”. You see how well the brands can create that perfect script for them to follow, resilient and accurate to the core delivering what the brands want you to know, while you not knowing the person advocating is real or not? Well, Transparency is the key issue to CGI generated influencers; the moment people realise the person they follow and adore; is just pages of codes it really loses all its shimmer. Thus, instead of dropping the shock bombs of their virtual existence later; The developers should try to introduce these influencers as their creations with a disclaimer of how they feel, act and react as a human being; Won’t affect their popularity or reach’

  • Living the ‘high life’

Going through the profiles of these influencers the obvious fact arises of,

  •  The lifestyle you should choose
  • The clothes you should wear
  • The places you should visit

It all looks good until you realise you can’t really have all of the good stuff; life isn’t so perfect as it seems on the pages of these CGI influencers. You can’t afford to buy a $500 Nike or Adidas sneakers, frequently right? But these CGI influencers, well if not practically but technically they can, even if they appear to be just like you and me, there is gaping difference between our existence, as they don’t have to buy anything they promote, they don’t have to repeat dresses as it is all “programmed” just a few clicks here and there and poof! There you have the most amazing looking person on earth wearing the best brands that you can only imagine to buy. Right? just giving the feel of life you wanted isn’t a fair thing nor feasible for an average follower.

  • Do you as a follower matter?

Yes, you do but sadly only in terms of numbers. Surprised eh?

That’s the truth, as followers, you are just numbers for the CGI influencers contributing to the global reach, earning profits for the brands they endorse. Unlike, real influencers who are socially as well as emotionally connected to their fans, conducting meet and greet for them. CGI influencers can’t really meet their fans in public or have an emotional connection with them, present in the infinite loop of web controlled by their developers they pose a serious skepticism to its followers rising the eternal question of- “If she is not real, how could I believe her?”.

  • Data privacy and accountability

The CGI influencers might be a great concept to look at but the bitter reality is that being an emotionless and non-existent identity, in reality, it is just a tool for the developers to earn money and for the brands who promote their products through it, reach a wider customer base.

A CGI influencer is nothing more than a coded puppet in the hands of the people and brands who control it and it might sound sad but it is the straight-faced reality. You won’t find a CGI influencer going rogue unless there is some personal agenda but the real question is the person behind the veil are they accountable for the stance they pose, are our data safe- say we go to the pages they endorse to buy stuff only to find it to be a scam and lose all our money, who will be questionable? Keep thinking.

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