Malaysians are no strangers to influencers and social media personalities in this day and age. It’s not too hard to spot an influencer account even, but seeing something like this might take a minute to process.
She looks like an influencer, has the following (3 million) and engagement of one, and even does brand campaigns. She’s even producing music on Spotify with over 273k monthly listeners.
But looking at her, you may think something about her face seems… off. Precisely. She’s an example of what’s new about the influencer marketing world today—robot influencers.
Just so we’re clear, they’re not literal robots whom you can actually meet and greet in real life, but CGI characters, hence why they’re also known as virtual influencers. The influencer above is created by a startup in LA called Brud that specialises in AI and robotics.
Now robot influencers are on the rise globally, and many of them have collaborated with one another or are “friends” on their social media (no surprise). Some of these other personalities include Shudu, Bermuda, Imma, etc.
What About Malaysia?
Yes, we do have one or at least an account that’s aspiring to go in that direction (judging by their following of various robot influencer accounts)—Avina.
Avina lives in Cheras and is currently 21 years old. So far, I haven’t been able to find other robot influencers like her in Malaysia and she’s still in her infancy.
While Avina herself hasn’t personally collaborated with other robot influencers like those big names I just mentioned, she has featured herself going to certain places like TRIBE and MoMo’s.
I thought at first that she was already gaining traction and was being sponsored for brand content, but TRIBE confirmed with me that they hadn’t worked with her previously, and the owner might’ve just frequented TRIBE often.
Now, it’d be an interesting development to see a robot influencer grow in Malaysia, but this is definitely something new in the local influencer marketing scene which I was curious about.
So I interviewed Nuffnang and Gushcloud, two notable influencer marketing companies on their thoughts about what the future of working with these influencers would look like and how it might change the industry, if at all. Although neither company has yet to work with a robot influencer, they’re aware of the rising trend overseas.
The Pros & Cons Of Working With Robot Influencers
“Robot influencers can do exactly what brands want to show their followers. Moreover, they wouldn’t let themselves be embroiled in personal scandals as well,” shared Jason Lee of Nuffnang with Vulcan Post.
He’s also confident that robot influencers will be punctual in delivering content on their social media when working with brands.
“Content with them can be highly customisable, and what they’re showing also provides a different experience to viewers, where it hangs between the border of realistic and virtual content,” shared Hou Yin Wan of Gushcloud with Vulcan Post.
However, working with robot influencers may seem like a double-edged sword. Jason has an inkling that consumers might not appreciate the content put out by them because they’re aware that brands have full control over it.
Hou Yin also thinks that especially in Asian countries, not everyone will be as accepting of robot influencers yet. He believes that it can be tricky when working with big brands especially when it comes to religious contexts, where there could be a potential negative repercussion after.
“Upkeep and management of robot influencers would also require significant investment. On top of that, each of their postings would be more time-consuming than a regular influencer because it must first be ideated, designed, and then rendered to achieve a brand’s campaign objectives,” Jason added.
No, They Won’t Be Replacing IRL Influencers
Both companies are certain that this will not be taking over the human influencer marketing scene, but will rather coexist with one another and be their own category in the influencer marketing industry. Which makes sense, because not everyone can nor has the time to make robots like these compared to becoming an influencer themselves.
“As long as the robot influencer creators are transparent, we believe their creation is going to be popular with a select group of audience who view robot influencers as a form of ‘fantasy’, especially for communities who grew up with manga and anime like the Japanese,” Jason explained.
Hou Yin believes that this form of content creation is sustainable despite the longer time to produce it, because if the quality of the content is good, brands would definitely be open to paying a good price. And whether it’s working with these robot or IRL creators, the relationship shouldn’t be too different, he said.
Both Hou Yin and Jason also agreed that the criteria that brands would look for in robot influencers would be just the same as a human influencer, like having a good base following and engagement rate before other factors like looks and personalities.
Robot Influencers Are Still Controlled By Humans
Personally, it’s hard to say that robot influencers themselves would be able to steer clear from drama and controversy just because their content is thought out more thoroughly. At the end of the day, their creators are humans with their own views and beliefs too.
Whether or not that was all a publicity stunt through controversy, putting out such content doesn’t reflect well on this particular influencer.
At the end of the day, the people operating these robot influencer accounts are still humans with their own opinions and perspectives, and working with these influencers isn’t like working with an efficient machine per se. Any brands working with robot influencers cannot assume that they’re the perfect solution for marketing.
Any flaws aside, there’s definitely potential for this new category of influencer marketing, even in Asia.
In Japan, there’s even a “virtual human agency” called Aww that created 5 virtual influencers who have quite a following and engagement on Instagram. South Korea also has its own virtual influencers like Rozy who have been gaining traction. Then again, it could be that these nations are also more receptive to concepts like these which already gives these CGI creators a market to cater to.
According to OnBuy, the most popular robot influencer, lilmiquela earns about £6.5K (RM37.2K) per post. But generally the average earning per post for robot influencers is somewhere between £100 to £200 (RM572 to RM1,146), which is not too far from what micro-influencers can earn.
Not to mention, Brud, the startup behind lilmiquela has closed US$6.1 million in funding thus far, signalling the potential of companies in this industry.
Overall, the general sentiment of the public towards robot influencers seems positive, but it’s hard to tell whether the content they create actually leads to any conversions for brands. Also, because they’re “robots” and not exactly humans, can we still hold them to the same degree of accountability we do with IRL influencers?
It’s hard to tell where the line is drawn now, but it seems they’re not a threat to the current influencer marketing industry, so we can expect to see more robot influencer accounts popping up, local or not.
For any Malaysian ones, it’d be nice to see some virtual faces that actually resemble ethnicities in Malaysia, which would be more appealing as the local crowd can find them more relatable.