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Digital Avatars: Creating Another Version of You



I was recently interviewed for a podcast to investigate the ways that digital influencers are being used in ecommerce. I had been writing about this in my book, Ecommerce Reimagined in 2021 since China had started to use avatars and virtual influencers in the late 2010’s. Their original reason for doing so was from a financial point of view – that celebrities would do things and say things that might go against the values of a brand. For instance, once upon a time famous rap star Kris Wu had signed with the biggest luxury fashion houses like Balenciaga and Gucci, only to have been canceled because of sexual assault charged.


Digital influencers will never incur such a headline. They will speak, look, sound just the way the marketing team designs them, an easy way for brands to derisk.

You might ask why would anyone even follow a FAKE person though?

Well, before you dismiss the idea completely, just take a look at the world’s most followed digital influencers, because their follower count shouldn’t be underestimated. Behind each is a loyal fan base that is highly relevant for brands to use and leverage.


Two types of influencers


In the world of digital avatars, there are two streams that are appearing: an avatar that is a creation of fiction and a digital twin or copy of an actual human.


Famous Digital Avatars


@LilMiquela 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Miquela is known for her work in fashion and music, having collaborated with brands like Calvin Klein and Givenchy, and she often discusses progressive politics. She’s half Brazilian, half Spanish, decorated with freckles, bushy eyebrows and braids. She is forever 19-years-old. She likes to try new things, is energetic and enjoys hanging out with friends.



@ magazineluiza 6.9 million followers on Instagram. Lu was introduced in 2003 as a virtual assistant for Magalu's e-commerce platform. Over the years, her role expanded beyond assisting customers to becoming the company's primary spokesperson and digital face.



@Ayayi


Since her debut, Ayayi has garnered significant attention on social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, Weibo, and Douyin, (Chinese social media platforms with more than a billion users) quickly amassing a large following. Her first post on Xiaohongshu gained nearly 3 million views and almost 40,000 followers overnight. Ayayi's popularity has led to collaborations with high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Ferragamo, and Guerlain.



Virtual influencers rake in serious cash too, earning up to 7,000 USD per Instagram post through advertising and paid collaborations.


But here’s the kicker: transparency matters. Most Instagram users, especially the younger crowd, want to know these influencers are artificial. So a brand has to distinguish between reality and fiction to prevent unrealistic norms from damaging self-esteem. Unfortunately, there’s no mandatory labeling yet, so it's up to creators to be honest about their virtual influencers.


A Digital Twin


These are digital replicas of real humans, often created using advanced technologies to capture their appearance, movements, and sometimes even their voice and mannerisms. These avatars aim to provide a highly realistic and familiar virtual representation of a specific person.


From being used in training sessions by L&D teams to now politicians using a bot as a marketing campaign when running for election, digital twins are going to popularize in the coming years.


It begs the question - how hard is it to create another version of you?


People have been talking about the digital twin for quite some time. In addition to creating a physical version of you, how do we create an informational version of you?

Companies like Synthesia and D-ID are credited with creating look-a-like avatars that can speak any script fed to them, in any language, and are used by content creators to create any sort of videos. That is the physical part.


What about what makes you, well, you?


Have you ever watched a Black Mirror episode called Be Right Back in which a widow tries to recreate her husband by downloading all of the messages he’s ever spoken with her, sending it to a company that then ships her a human life-size version of him, programmed to sound and talk like the dead husband? Not to spoil the episode for you but at first, life is good, and then there are things she notices that makes him too perfect.


He's very attentive as a husband, provides for a great time in bed, and even starts to do chores around the house. She later proceeds to destroying him because well, his perfection is no longer representative of him.


Replicating someone in a virtual form seemed like a far-fetched idea at first when I first watched it, but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. We have the technology to be able to study billions of parameters to mimic someone. It almost like creating a Large Language Model around you, though you would have to step in and train the bot to sound more like you, with your flaws and all.


Digital Twins in the Creative Industry


Models have started to replicate themselves to get more work. British model, Alexsandrah, says "having an AI version of you kind of keeps you safe."

"I will benefit from it because it's literally an AI version of me, I'm not cut out from anything. All the proceeds, if any proceeds are made, will be coming to me.

"You don't have to travel, you don't have to do the airport runs, you don't have to do anything. It gives people an opportunity to also just live their lives and do other things, and be in two places at the same time," she adds.


CAA Agency has also started to use The Vault to create digital twins for some of the actors they manage. Imagine being famous, becoming scanned digitally and then never needing to work a day after that as an actor!


Okay, it’s probably not that simple.


But having digital twins will allow actors to work on multiple projects simultaneously, have an extended career, seem forever youthful while doing it.


As this concept popularizes, we’re going to see digital twins created of each other. I won’t go into the trove of ethical questions and potential misuses but it seems like we’ve opened a Pandora’s Box.


If you have a digital twin, what would you use it for?


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