November 22, 2023

The AI Behind Virtual Influencer Lil Miquela

. . .

Is it weird to see synthetic versions of human beings, a.k.a. Virtual influencers, having three times the engagement rate as human influencers?

Welcome to the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, where synthetic beings can be programmed to exhibit human-like emotions, expressions, and movements. They’ve taken the digital marketplace by storm, with brands and marketers rushing to sign lucrative deals.

And one prominent example of this evolution is Lil Miquela.

Read more: AI & Virtual Influencers: Navigating Brand Strategy Amid Hollywood Strikes


Who is Lil Miquela?

Lil Miquela (full name - Miquela Sousa) is a “half-Spanish, half-Brazilian 19-year-old” who “lives” in LA. She is a computer-generated model created by Brud – a transmedia studio that creates digital characters for unique storytelling, valued at $125 million in 2019.

When Miquela debuted in 2016, she immediately caught the attention and curiosity of many. In the early days, there was even a rumor that British model Emily Bador might be Miquela due to their physical resemblance. This was eventually settled when the creators at Brud revealed themselves.

But not everyone loved Miquela. There were questions on her authenticity and the unrealistic beauty standards she might set for young teens, where people went to the extent of calling out her unnatural and doll-like look.

Despite everything, you can’t deny the craze - she is the first AI influencer to go viral, where she charges $10,000 per Instagram post and has partnered with brands like Samsung, Prada, PacSun, Calvin Klein.

The engagement on her YouTube channel, Instagram profile, and brand collaboration videos are also a testament to her popularity. She has proven to be more than just pixels and a "trained robot" with her “natural” responses and fluid storytelling.

How was Miquela created: AI technology and story-tellers behind it

The more memory we gave you the more complex you became - Trevor McFedries, Co-founder, Brud.

Lil Miquela was conceived as an exploration of digital artistry melded with modern AI technology, incorporating a unique fusion of music, social interaction, and brand advocacy. Not much has been disclosed about the technology, but we do know a bit:

  • Proprietary technology development: Brud has developed proprietary technology that enhances the realism of Miquela's images. This includes clothing dimensionality, lighting, shadows, and picture depth. This technological framework allows her to exist in an augmented reality realm that closely mirrors real-world aesthetics.
  • 3D rendering and motion capture: Miquela's digital persona was created by repurposing 3D rendering software and motion capture technologies. This resulted in a high-quality visual production similar to modern entertainment mediums.
  • Generative AI and machine learning: Miquela's creators use a core programming with machine learning to give her context and help her evolve. They rely on Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) and other models to generate realistic data for her visual content and social media interactions.
  • Narrative engagement: Miquela's creators crafted a narrative that goes beyond static digital images, engaging the audience through real-world dialogues and controversies. For instance, there was a staged Instagram account hack by a CGI character named Bermuda. Miquela also interviewed musicians at Coachella and appeared on the Zach Sang Show. All of this, along with AI-driven interactions, increase Miquela's social media influence and develop her virtual character within an evolving storyline.

Miquela’s impact on virtual influencer marketing

Jessica Currie, former Creative Lead at Brud, explains to Miquela in this video, "...programming is the prologue but the story is yours to write." True to those words, Miquela has made her mark in the human world:

  • Music, fashion, and entertainment: Miquela has established a niche for virtual influencers in the world of culture and entertainment, through music singles and collaborations with fashion giants like Prada and Calvin Klein.
  • Narrative expansion and transmedia storytelling: Miquela's narratives unfold across digital platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, and X (previously Twitter). Her transmedia storytelling has set the stage for new ways of engaging with audiences.
  • AI-driven Interaction: The AI-driven relationship between Miquela and her followers challenges traditional digital interaction. Machine learning algorithms and natural language processing enable her to engage like human influencers.
  • Technology and innovation: The fusion of AI, 3D rendering, and motion capture technologies gives Miquela a human-like appearance. However, it’s the use of real backgrounds in her content that pushes the boundaries of digital human representation and interactive storytelling. The neatness with which she is superimposed in her surroundings can make you believe that she is truly walking down the streets.
  • Vision of scalable influencers: The concept of a "scalable influencer" aims to create digital personas capable of engaging large audiences across multiple platforms. AI technology and virtual influencers make this scalability possible, allowing real-time interactions with diverse audiences.

But before you jump on the bandwagon, there are a few things to consider.

The team behind Lil Miquela
The team behind Lil Miquela, source

Factors to consider before using virtual influencers for marketing

Miquela changed the way brands and the human world interact with virtual influencers. She has established herself as a formidable virtual influencer, with millions of followers and collaborations with top brands. However, she has also faced controversies that affected the brands she worked with. So before you “sign” with a virtual influencer, heed these lessons:

  • Sensitivity towards social issues: The Calvin Klein campaign of Bella Hadid and Miquela demonstrated the importance of being attune to social and cultural nuances. Brands must be careful not to exploit sensitive issues or communities for profit. Marketing campaigns need to be respectful and inclusive. In this case, the LGBTQ+ community felt that the brand was queerbaiting for profit, and Calvin Klein had to apologize.
  • Realism and relatability: The PacSun collaboration highlighted the need for realism and relatability in marketing. Virtual influencers can provide unique engagement options but may alienate those who prefer genuine interactions. Brands should consider the trade-off between novelty and authenticity, particularly when targeting vulnerable demographics.
  • Ethical marketing practices: The publicity stunt of Miquela's account being hacked shows the necessity for ethical marketing practices. While provocative campaigns can garner attention, they can also foster distrust and negative publicity if perceived as deceptive or manipulative. Brands should maintain ethical standards in marketing to build trust with their audiences by being transparent and honest in their engagements.

Would you engage AI influencers for your marketing campaigns?

Let us know your thoughts.

Timeline of Lil Miquela to popularity
Timeline of Lil Miquela to popularity

Want to cut the clutter and get information directly in your mailbox?