Avatars Invade Instagram As Brand Influencers

Avatars Invade Instagram As Brand Influencers
April 30, 2018
"Miquela" blended into a RL photo in an Instagram post plugging a videogame


One drawback to writing about avatars and virtual worlds for so many years is I sometimes come across an item, think "been there, done that", and forget that it's still news to most people. That in mind, consider the rise of "Miquela", one of many 3D avatars who've gained a large following on Instagram -- 1 million in her case. Miquela is the creation of Brud, a Los Angeles-based company that not only leverages its avatar for real life branding deals, but generates virtual dramas between other Instagram-based avatars to grow their influence:


McFedries, brud‘s founder and chief executive, confirmed that the Miquela account had been hacked in a text exchange with me, writing, “some redditor idiots hacked the page we think.”


That was a lie.


The account “hack” was architected by brud as part of an ongoing virtual reality drama playing out on Instagram and other social media platforms between avatars it had developed, all designed to attract media attention, according to people with knowledge of brud and its plans. It worked. 


McFedries has not responded to further requests for comment after confirming that the Miquela account was “good”.


One Los Angeles investor familiar with the company said brud was “using conflict to introduce new characters… same as the Kardashians always have.”


As with most aspects of virtual culture, we saw similar things like this happening in Second Life over a decade ago, with metaverse pundits like Gwyneth Llewelyn predicting the blending of avatar celebrities into the real world:


Between now and the next tens years, the difference will be just one of increasing the suspension of disbelief. If we are able to do photo-realistic imaging in real time in 2020, we will still be able to get an autograph from Madonna’s avatar in 2020 — who may look like she did in the 1980s, and we will know that it's just an avatar of her. But she might continue her career in virtual worlds even when she’s left the physical stages, and continue to be the refreshing and stylish woman that lured her audience into frenzy in the 1980s. Will Madonna the personality chameleon adopt a new — virtual — persona and finish her career on the stages of Second Life?

The interesting bit about "virtual celebrities", however, is that they will have a social life as celebrities inside a synthetic world. They will talk back to fans and attend social parties; they will not be remote and inaccessible, but they will be in view of the residents who happen to be their fans. They will be spotted in SL and pursued by fans; they will naturally give interviews to the media (SL or RL) but also answer IMs. Will they be "real" or just someone behind an avatar, as with GorillaZ today? The truth is that nobody will know.


Called that one, Gwyn. Curiously, Second Life avatars are finally photorealistic enough to become Instagram influencers. Wonder if anyone's considered doing that -- if they aren't already.

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