August 30, 2018

The Drama is Real but the Reality is Fake

What's more exciting than two of your favourite reality stars having a fight on social media? When two computer generated Instagram (CGI) personas battle it out on the social media platform and cause draaaama.

This is exactly what happened with one of the most popular CGI influencers, Miquela Sousa (@LiMiquela), a 19 year old model from LA. Her 1.3 million followers on Instagram watched as her account was 'hacked' by a fellow CGI, Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) who demanded that she tell the truth about her existence. And thus, Miquela confessed to the Instagram world that she was in fact, a robot.

Miquela is not a physical robot, she doesn't exist in the real world. Rather, her image is super imposed onto photos posted on Instagram. There are photos of her "wearing" designer clothing, endorsing social causes like Black Lives Matter and interacting with fans. Miquela has a fantastic resume, she has "worked" with a number of leading brands and has featured in fashion magazines, including at least one cover. Miquela has done everything that a real (physical) Instagram celebrity would do.

Apart from Miquela not having a shadow, does it matter that CGIs are becoming an increasingly popular form of advertising? Potentially, yes.

New Zealand's Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) generally prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct and this includes advertising on social media platforms. The FTA also prohibits false and misleading representations, including sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any goods or services. Brands advertising on social media should be careful to disclose when an endorsement of their product is sponsored.

Most Instagram celebrities like the Kardashians might use a disclaimer like #advertisement or #sponsored to comply with the FTA, can CGIs like Miquela do the same? She is designed to promote products that she can never actually try. Does it matter that she doesn't actually exist?

Any brands wishing to use CGIs to promote their products should be transparent and accurate, openly informing followers what is or is not real. There will most likely be limits as to what personalities like Miquela can endorse. Endorsements by a fake personality of 'true and tried' weight loss techniques is dubious and likely to be prohibited under the FTA and related Advertising Standards Authority codes. However, as the success of CGIs increases, the ramifications of this new form of marketing strategy are yet to be seen. Until then, keep the drama coming.


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