A digitally made human, aka “virtual influencer”, given the name ‘Rozy’, is mostly mistaken as a real person in flesh and blood. She posts photos of her adventures, her modelling, her make-up and clothes and her talents like dancing and singing, getting more than 130,000 likes and followers on social media platforms such as Instagram.
Rozy is a combination of all three who straddles the real and virtual world, as per the Seoul-based company that created her. One of her fans asked, “are you a real person? Are you AI? Or a robot?” “Rozy can do everything that humans cannot in the most human-like form”, stated the website of Sidus Studio X.
Rozy has been offered deals and sponsorships for virtual fashion shows and has also released two singles. This has resulted in a boost in the profit-making of the company in the multibillion-dollar advertising and entertainment worlds.
The booming industry of “virtual human” brings a whole new economy with the future influencers never-ageing, scandal-free and digitally flawless, besides just having unattainable standards of living.
How “virtual influencers” function
Sidus Studio X used CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology for crafting Rozy. They created images of Rozy from head to toe using this technology for uploading pictures on her Instagram handle.
Virtual influencers build their recognition by following social media trends and posting snapshots of their “lives” and interaction with fans. A 23-year-old, Lee Na-kyoung, hailing from Incheon has been following Rozy for two years. Rozy followed Lee back by sometimes commenting on her posts. Lee had chatted with Rozy, despite being fully aware of her truth.
“We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her. So, I don’t think of her as an AI but a real friend,” said Lee. She continues, “I love Rozy’s content. She’s so pretty that I can’t believe she’s an AI.”
Sometimes, Sidus Studio X superimposes Rozy’s head onto the body of a human model when she models for clothing.
A thriving industry
“Virtual influencers” have a huge fanbase influencing the creator’s company to have a profitable business.
Rozy’s Instagram account consists of a range of sponsored content from advertising skincare to fashion products. Baik Seung-yup, the CEO of Sidus Studio X said, “many big companies in Korea want to use Rozy as a model. This year, we expect to easily reach over two billion Korean won (about $1.52 million) in profit, just with Rozy.”
Rozy has grown to be more popular when offered sponsorship from luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermes along well- recognised magazines and media companies, the CEO added. Her ads are displayed on television along with spaces like billboards and buses. This has led to high demand among the younger members of the demographic, as per experts’ opinion.
Sidus Studio X takes two days for creating an image and a few weeks for a video commercial. This takes far less time and production labour than commercials featuring real humans. This helps to make up time spent on location scouting and preparing logistics such as lighting, hair and makeup, styling, catering and post-production editing.
Experts reckon that it’s easier to work with “virtual influencers” as they never age, tire or invite controversy.
Other than South Korea’s Rozy, Lil Miquela, designed by an American tech start-up that has endorsed brands like Calvin Klein and Prada and has acquired more than 3 million followers on social media. A Brazilian AI influencer named Lu of Magalu has nearly 6 million followers on Instagram.
Lee Eun-hee, a professor at Inha University’s Department of Consumer Science said, “virtual human elsewhere has a ‘uniqueness’ while those in Korea are always made beautiful and pretty …. (reflecting) the values of each country.” She adds, “plastic surgery capital of the world is booming as a $10.7 billion industry. There are concerns that virtual influencers could further fuel unrealistic beauty standards.”
Eun-hee also said, “real women want to become like them and men want to date people of the same appearance.”
What is ‘digital blackface’
There have been regarding the ethics of marketing products to consumers who can’t tell the difference between AI models and humans, along with the cultural appropriation while designing the models of different ethnicities being at risk is termed as ‘digital blackface’.
A company expressed in their blog-post, “like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and expressive liberty are already a growing concern. To help brands navigate the ethical quandaries of this emerging medium and avoid potential hazards, (Meta) is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of (virtual influencers).”
CEO of Sidus Studios X, Baik insists, “there is no big difference between virtual humans and the real-life celebrities they like.” He points out that since fans see their influencers on screen and don’t meet them in person, makes it easier for the company to function.
He added, “we want to change perceptions of how people think of virtual humans. What we do isn’t to take away people’s jobs, but to do things that humans can’t do, such as work 24 hours or make unique content like walking in the sky.”