AI pretenders infiltrating influencer marketing in Australia

By Ruby Derrick | 6 December 2023
Natalie Giddings.

AI influencers, sometimes hard to spot without a warning sign, are gaining traction in Australia and taking a firm place in the marketing sector, say industry insiders. 

These machine influencers can be created and deployed quickly and at a lower cost compared to humans, they say.

More than half (52%) of the US population currently follows a cyber-creator on Instagram and consumers expect brands to expand their digital experiences into new formats, Natalie Giddings, CEO of influencer marketing agency Hoozu, told AdNews.

“Australian brands are increasingly adopting influencer marketing, making the market ripe for AI influencers to enter," she said. 

Giddings and those in the influencer space are unsure of the impact these AI and animated influencers will have on traditional influencer marketing – humans.  

Her initial instincts, she says, is that AI influencers will lack the genuine connection and relatability that human influencers can provide. 

“But ultra-realistic avatar videos of our favourite celebrities are already active in our feeds, entertaining us. AI-powered avatars of our favourite Australian creators could actually enable them to expand their profiles and maximise their bandwidth,” said Giddings.  

Patrick Whitnall, managing director at industry body AiMCO (Australian Influencer Marketing Council), believes it’s important to take learnings from other markets, who are sometimes a little ahead of Australia in terms of influencer marketing.  

There is growing space around AI and animated influencers, he says.  

“There’s a statistic that 50% of people online 18 to 44 year olds agree that they are open to watching content for virtual or animated influencers,” said Whitnall.  

He says this creates more competition with traditional influencers and therefore more choice for brands.  

“Brands are increasingly in a rented relationship with influencers, as it were. Some have long term ambassadors but inherently there's a lot of rented influencer relations where you work with someone based on how they might promote your brand or a new product.” 

Brands will potentially soon be able to start to craft their own ambassadors themselves, notes Whitnall.  

“For brands - from a human perspective - there are lots of checks, balances and relationships to work through,” he said.  

“But if brands move into creating AI influencers themselves, it’s much more of an owned space for them. Aside from being competitive in the market, the technology (using MidJourney and Stable Diffusion) to create a lot of these characters with post production to make appear more real shows the sheer scale and volume people can create.” 

Justin Golledge, managing partner of influencer marketing agency LookSee, says as AI and deepfakes infiltrate social media, the challenge of distinguishing reality from fiction has reached unprecedented levels. 

Earlier this year, he notes, a peculiar sight captured the imaginations of the collective online realm – Pope Francis confidently strolling through St Peter’s square enrobed in a Balenciaga-style white puffer jacket.  

“The “popecoat” incident spread like social media wild fire, quickly gathering millions of views online, leaving many oblivious to the fact that this spectacle was the product of AI-generated deepfake wizardry,” said Golledge. 

"I thought the pope's puffer jacket was real and didn't give it a second thought," Chrissy Teigen had tweeted, "No way am I surviving the future of technology”. 

More recently, influencer “Emily Pellegrini” found herself at the centre of social media’s attention when a prominent football player slid into her DMs, inviting her for a date, he said.  

“But the footballer was (probably) left heartbroken when Emily was exposed as nothing more than a figment of AI imagination, crafted through code and deepfake imagery designed to evoke very specific emotions.” 

For Giddings, at the core of the industry is the fact that people look to influencers for product recommendations.  

“Through that lens, there are a couple of hurdles I can’t overcome in my mind. If we are talking about a pretend person, brought to life entirely from AI, they can’t for example, try on clothing realistically. But then again, mannequins have served an incredible purpose for years,” she said. 

“But can they taste a recipe or test a new facial serum and truly recommend it?”

She says if creators train an AI model to their likeness, that’s where it gets interesting.  

Having an AI body double could open any number of possibilities. Editing traditional creative assets is still largely manual and time-consuming, she says. 

“Currently, apps and technology are making that process more straightforward and more intuitive. But tapping into instant iterations based on AI,” said Giddings.  

“Mutiple adaptions, no reshoots, blended realities. Opportunities like that are hard to dismiss. Try hearing your own voice in different languages. It’s mind-blowing.  

Doing this in an environment where the influencer and creator work together could get very interesting.” 

What also sets these influencers apart from their human counterparts, says Giddings, is that they’re not subject to human emotions or personal biases, which will ensure consistent messaging and brand alignment. 

“They can be customised to match specific brand personalities, target audiences, and campaign goals,” she said. 

Giddings says the downside is that these AI influencers will lack the genuine connection and relatability that human influencers can provide. Consumers may be less likely to trust AI influencers due to their artificial nature, she says.

“Licensing an AI Model of an existing creator’s persona is already being explored," said Giddings.

Whitnall says for a human influencer, it may take them a while to find the perfect shot and post it perfectly on Instagram.  

Whereas with an AI influencer, because they’re virtual, today they could be in Bondi and then be in Perth in twenty minutes.  

“Suddenly you’re not in an increasingly competitive marketplace, but you’re also competing with someone that can produce much more volume of content that you ever could,” he said.  

Whitnall notes disclosure is key for humans and brand partnerships as part of the current practice.  

Ethically, as long as someone is not trying to hide or not disclose that they’re AI generated, then that is generally accepted by the audience as well, he says.  

“The social media experience for the user is being able to make the distinction between what is an AI influencer versus a human influencer,” said Whitnall.  

“Brands will be wanting to make sure that they’re disclosing the use of this content or partnership so the consumer is aware that it’s an AI influencer. In any form of partnership or advertising, there must be a disclosure.” 

What AI does for brands, Whitnall believes, is it negates the need for expensive and slow design time and licensing usage costs. 

“When working with human influencers, they’re producing content on the brands behalf which may last for four months or a year,” he said.  

“When brands start to work with or create their own AI influencers, they own the content, which I think is an interesting space for them to be entering into to."

Where it’s currently lacking, notes Whitnall, is that most AI influencers are limited to static imagery, because that’s where the technology is currently at.  

“But we certainly aren’t far around the corner from animation.” 

Golledge said a deeper dive into Emily’s Pellegrini’s profile illustrates a vast network of AI “Influencers”, inventing fabricated content boasting their glitz and glamour lifestyle. 

“The concerning aspect here being these profiles, while generally consisting of substantial social media followings, fail to disclose their fictional nature,” he said. 

“And considering these profiles are monetised, it seems only inevitable that we will soon witness AI “influencers” striking poses against our most iconic backdrops, perhaps even endorsing a Pope Francis-inspired puffer jacket.” 

This is a genuine case of concern for the Australian influencer industry, believes Golledge. The category is collectively emphasising and implementing practices of truthfulness and authenticity.  

“Yet given AI-generated content can deliberately trick people, these profiles will undoubtedly undermine the public’s trust of influencers. 

“Leaders in our category must address this issue promptly. All the strides we have made to legitimise the category through disclosure and truthfulness could unravel due to a few lines of code.” 

But are these AI profiles the “terminator 2” moment for the influencer category?, Golledge questions. 

“This case extends into an industry-wide issue. AI is silently contributing to the articles we read, the videos we watch, and the images we see. So, it's the responsibility of marketers and brands alike to prevent the blurring of lines between fact and fiction,” he said. 

“Otherwise, we may all end up like Chrissy Teagan, and not survive the future of technology.” 

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