Social media influencers are constantly competing for likes, partnerships, and ways to differentiate themselves from others. A surefire way to distinguish oneself in the ever-growing sea of social influencers? Being a robot.
Computer generated social media influencers like Lil’ Miquela and Shudu have racked up millions of Instagram followers and likes and have secured several campaigns for high-end designers. Miquela additionally supports political causes on her Instagram and has even released a few songs on Spotify. Unassuming followers were duped into believing Miquela was a real person until her account was “hacked” and her creators, a secretive software company named Brud, revealed that she was a robot. Despite her status as a computer-generated image (CGI), Miquela was recently named one of Time magazine’s top 25 most influential people on the Internet, among names like Kanye West and President Donald Trump.
Though Miquela and CGI model Shudu are not real people, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently stated that CGI influencers must abide by their Endorsement Guidelines as well. In a statement to CNNMoney, an FTC spokesperson noted, “the FTC doesn’t have specific guidance on CGI influencers, but advertisers using CGI influencer posts should ensure that the posts are clearly identifiable as advertising.” As a reminder, the FTC requires that all online promoters comply with their Endorsement Guidelines and include disclosures to clarify in their communications any material relationship between the promoter and the brand promoted—apparently even if the promoters are not real people.
Some of the guidelines mesh well with the use of CGI influencers. Clearly, their posts fit within the broad definition of “endorsements” under the Guidelines (“any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness…) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser…”). One important consideration when brands are working with CGI influencers is the context of the endorsement itself—can it really be said that the avatars are bona fide users of the products?
While the scope of applicability of all provisions from the FTC Endorsement Guidelines with respect to CGI influencers remains a bit unclear, as social media marketing continues to evolve, early-adapting brands should be cautious and understand all of the legal considerations.