Will Fashion Models Become Obsolete in the Future?

2019-06-19

Will Fashion Models Become Obsolete in the Future?

In the age of social media, many industries are in constant flux—always evolving, adapting, and growing. The world of fashion is no exception. Once upon a time, brands used to dictate the fate of global trends. Today, all these influencers on platforms like Instagram set these trends. But in an increasingly digital world, will fashion models remain relevant? Or, will CGI-created characters make them obsolete?

The Rise of Virtual Influencers

Lil Miquela is a 19-year-old Instagram model with 1.5 million followers. She has excellent style, and she lives quite a lavish lifestyle. For instance, she has modeled makeup for Pat McGrath. She has appeared with Bella Hadid for a Calvin Klein ad. Not to mention, she has used her platform to speak out about racial issues. Lil Miquela might look like your average influencer, but she’s not. Unlike many Instagram models, she is a hyper-realistic digital human.

Lil Miquela on Instagram
Lil Miquela, casually shopping in a record store.

No one knows who handles or runs Lil Miquela’s platform. However, she was once associated with a Los Angeles-based artificial intelligence startup called Brud.

Another CGI supermodel who’s on the rise is Shudu. Made by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, the virtual influencer went viral when Fenty Beauty reposted a photo of Shudu sporting their Mattemoiselle lipstick. Since then, Wilson’s CGI supermodel has received numerous offers from fashion and tech brands.

Shudu_with_the_Mattemoiselle_lipstick_from_Fenty_Beauty
Shudu with red lipstick.

Virtual influencers are gaining popularity and money-making potential. The rise of these CGI supermodels is raising a few concerns. Not too long ago, the Federal Trade Commission revamped its endorsement guides, requiring influencers to identify sponsored posts through hashtags like “#ad”. It’s unclear if the same rules apply to this new wave of influencers. Of course, people are also concerned about accountability. Who will the FTC go after if Lil Miquela fails to comply with the rules?

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Marketing

In retail, businesses use AI to streamline operations. They use it to eliminate mundane tasks and empower employees to carry out more value-added activities. Even in content marketing, AI makes everyone’s jobs so much easier. Algorithms enable marketers to capture relevant and valuable data about their target audience.

AI capabilities have grown exponentially over the years. Marketers can easily come up with a fake face or full-body images. In other words, they no longer have to pay for models to advertise their products. All they have to do is create virtual models with Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). Datagrid is one company using GANs to create computer-generated models for advertising and fashion purposes.

Datagrid_is_using_GANs_to_create_computer-generated_models_for_advertising_and_fashion_purposes
Datagrid is using GANs to create computer-generated models for advertising and fashion purposes.

GANs are neural networks which generate new facial images based on huge datasets of real photos. Of course, illustrators and designers benefit from the creative applications of this new technology. However, there are also downsides to this AI-powered tech. Advances in AI can be used to create deepfakes. Many have used it for their own personal gain. As the technology becomes more mainstream, many will undoubtedly attempt to use it for nefarious reasons.

Influence in the Digital Age

In a study, Stackla discovered that 57% of consumers find influencer content to be more authentic compared to the ones generated by brands. The demand for authenticity is the reason behind the meteoric rise of influencer marketing. Consumers trust influencers because they’re real people who also purchase products that brands sell.

Consumers are apprehensive about trusting branded content since most of them believe that companies are only concerned about profitability. Thus, they turn to their favorite Instagram models, YouTube vloggers, and Twitter personalities for recommendations and advice on purchasing decisions.

Needless to say, social media has changed marketing in a plethora of ways. Now, brands constantly have to keep up with these changes to appeal to their target audience. In recent years, companies have found a way to leverage influencers’ power to drive traffic, increase brand awareness, and improve sales. They collaborate with influencers. Take the beauty community for example. Brands and influencers often come together to create and promote new products. For instance, Pixi partnered with beauty and lifestyle YouTuber Chloe Morello. Mac Cosmetics worked with beauty guru Patrick Starrr.

Brands are using influencers’ power to sell more products and reach more consumers. Compared to traditional forms of advertising, this method is more cost-effective. For so much less, brands can reach out to an audience that’s likely to purchase their products. This dynamic has been going on for quite some time now. However, influencer marketing is expected to change because of CGI influencers.

Authenticity in the Age of Influencer Marketing

Companies are slowly embracing digital influencers, the CGI-generated kind. As mentioned, brands like Fenty Beauty and Calvin Klein have already partnered with virtual celebrities, Lil Miquela and Shudu. They have a vast reach, which makes them ideal ambassadors for the brands. Consumers also don’t seem to care if they’re real or not. Like the Instagram feeds of social influencers, theirs are perfectly curated.

If this trend continues, more and more brands will turn to these CGI influencers. Not only that, companies might decide to come up with their own digital influencers once GANs become more mainstream. Brands who create their own CGI influencers will have full control over their content and branding, which should raise issues on authenticity. Why would consumers trust the opinion of someone who isn’t even real? Since Lil Miquela and Shudu aren’t real people, their endorsements will never be 100% authentic.

Takeaway

No one knows for sure how CGI influencers will reshape the marketing scene, but one thing is certain: fashion models won’t be replaced by them anytime soon.

The creators of Lil Miquela and Shudu are being criticized for promoting racial and ethnic ambiguity and claiming their creations embody diversity. Whether it’s online visual merchandising or digital marketing, brands should be aware of the potential ethical challenges of casting fake models in an industry that’s founded on authenticity and transparency.

Example of animation with Animate block
Example of online visual merchandising and web animations with the Weld tool.

As more industries face more pressure to diversify, their casting of CGI influencers instead of mixed-race models could do more harm than good. With virtual models having their own merits and challenges, businesses have to contemplate potential consequences to their brand when considering the use of AI influencers.

Article by Geri Mileva and Tom Söderlund