What do CGI influencers mean for the future of advertising?

Influencers seem to have it all.  They are beautiful people in the most stylish clothes endorsing a product that makes them look and feel fabulous.  If you buy that product, you can look just as amazing.  But what if those beautiful people aren’t actually real?  Meet Miquela, a CGI influencer who has over 1 million followers on Instagram (Yurieff, 2018).  She has partnered with the likes of Giphy and Prada, has appeared in Vogue, and looks like she has the most amazing life.  Except she isn’t human.  Miquela shocked the public when, after two years of being an influencer, she revealed that she is actually a CGI model. As AI influencers become more common, this could change the future of advertising, both for companies and consumers.

miq eating
Photo Credit: Lil Miquela Instagram

For brands, CGI models are the ideal models.  There is no fear of public scandals or surprises from a model’s past that could harm the reputation of the brand.  Brands also have much more control over the image of the model than they would using a real human (Yurieff, 2018).  Some brands, such as Barneys, are simply interested in reaching Miquela’s wide following and do not mind the fact that she is not an actual human being (Yurieff, 2018).

miq drinking
Photo Credit: Lil Miquela Instagram

But what does this mean for consumers?  Human influencers can give insight about a product, including what they like about it and why they use it.  But CGI models can’t do this.  If someone doesn’t know that the influencer is actually a CGI model who has never used the product, are they being deceived?  Advocator Yooh Ahn, who created the Ambush brand and has worked with Miquela, tells CNN Tech that it is no different than the enhanced photos that are posted on Instagram.  Since those products don’t actually give the consumer those lips or hair, the posts aren’t presenting a truthful reality. (Yurieff, 2018).  Some argue that human influencers on Instagram already feel fake.  Everything is too picture-perfect to feel real, which makes Instagram the perfect platform for CGI models to take the stage (Rosenblatt, 2018).  Although the Federal Trade Commission has rules that require endorsers to disclose that they are being paid, there are currently no rules for CGI models.  But if a CGI model does not disclose that he or she is being paid, it is unclear who the FTC would fine (Katz, 2018).

The rise of CGI models certainly raises many ethical questions. Do you think CGI models are deceiving to consumers, or are they simply the future of advertising?

References

Yurieff, K. (2018, June 25). Instagram star isn’t what she seems. But brands are buying in. Money.CNN.com. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/06/25/technology/lil-miquela-social-media-influencer-cgi/index.html

Katz, M. (2018, May 1). CGI ‘Influencers’ Like Lil Miquela Are About to Flood Your Feeds. Wired.com. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/lil-miquela-digital-humans/

Rosenblatt, K. (2018, July 22). What’s human? Instagram’s faux influencers gain real followers. Nbcnews.com. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/what-s-human-instagram-s-faux-influencers-gain-real-followers-n893341

Featured photo from Lil Miquela. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/lilmiquela/

 

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Blogging with WordPress

WordPress is great for creating blogs with ease and without having to worry about coding.  If you have a lot of pages and need to update the navigation or the footer, it is fast and easy rather than going into every single page.  GoDaddy also has an option for WordPress integration, which is great for businesses.

A big appeal is that there are hundreds of themes to choose from.  You don’t have to worry about CSS at all and can use the themes as is.  But if you do know how, you can take a theme and do a number of things to make it look unique.

Clear-WordPress-Themes

As for my impressions, I have used free themes for classes—a WordPress class a few years ago, and then our Intro to Digital Communications last semester.  Because it had been a few years since I used it, the theme that I was using was very dated.  It also took some time to figure out how to change certain things.  Although I enjoy trying out different themes, I wish there was a way to use various elements from different themes.  I see that you can schedule when to publish a blog, but I don’t see if you can schedule when to make design changes.  It seems like it is live, whereas when you code something yourself, you can test and play around it with it before you upload to the server.  But for quick content edits, it is very seamless and easy.

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WordPress is used by large companies such as The New Yorker, BBC America, Bloomberg and Variety.  With built in SEO and social media integration, it is no surprise why both big and small companies would want to use WordPress.  It is responsive, has all-in-one hosting and a variety of themes that can be customized to suit your website.

Final Reflections for Digital Communication

For my final reflection of the semester, we were asked to think about a topic we discussed that was most relevant to us.  This was extremely difficult because there were so many interesting topics to choose from.  The first thing that pops into mind is the topic of social networking sites.  We presented a snapshot of a social media platform.  I chose Meetup, a site that I am very grateful to.  As someone who has moved around a lot, I have met some amazing friends through Meetup.  However, like many companies, Meetup has gone through its share of trouble.  Recent changes have left organizers and members very unhappy.  Web traffic has dropped, and Meetup was recently bought by WeWork.

The week that we discussed our social media platforms was very interesting, because we had recently looked at dead dotcoms.  We were able to examine what these companies did (or did not do) that ultimately led to their downfall.  So as we went through the social media platforms, we were able to look at what current companies are doing right, or what they need to improve so that they can thrive.

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So how is this relevant to me?  I live in San Francisco, where startups come and go, and the big tech companies thrive.  But even big companies can have their problems.  In our class, we have been discussing the latest issues with Facebook.  We have also seen what is going on with Snapchat.  One company who has it all one day may very well go the way of MySpace or Friendster the next.  I think the classes where we discussed social networking opened my eyes to just how fast things can change, and it also made me think about what companies can do so that they don’t go the way of the dead dotcoms.

In addition to having a strong content strategy, companies need to listen to their users.  User testing should be continuous, and feedback and activity from the live site should be monitored, and changes should be made as needed.  Users also need to be able to trust companies.  We give so much information, sometimes without even realizing it, so when a data breach happens, it can be a wake up call, and people can grow wary of that company.  When people lose trust and get fed up enough to stop using a social network, the results can be very harmful to the company.

I really hope that Meetup will start to listen to its users, and that the company will make the changes it needs to be successful again.  The CEO had also mentioned that he plans to use AI, so perhaps utilizing new technologies will help Meetup.

I think that goes for all social networking platforms.  They need to be willing to experiment, stay on top of the latest trends, and use the latest technologies.  Users must be able to trust the companies, while the platforms take risks by trying new things to make sure they stay ahead of the game.  But ultimately, if something isn’t working, they need to listen to the users so they don’t become just another dead dotcom.

The Future of Advertising

As technology is ever-changing, what does this mean for the future of advertising?  I think ads will become even more interactive, utilizing VR and holograms.  Perhaps more ads will use native advertising to look like they belong with the content.  The user will be able to interact with the ad, but won’t have to worry about being redirected to another site.  If a hologram is involved, I think people would want to interact with the native ad since it not only looks related to the content, but could be a fun experience.

I think in the future, we will have said goodbye to privacy, and for the most part, be okay with it.  We already share so much information about ourselves, often without even thinking about it.  When we sign-up for something with Facebook because it is convenient, we are sharing access to our information.  It seems like over the years, people have been sharing more and more information, but we still worry about privacy.  Maybe we think it is creepy that the internet anticipates our searches, or that items we have searched for seem to follow us around.  But in a few years, I think the searches will be even more customized.  If we purchase something on Amazon, we still see ads for it, even though we no longer need that product.  In the future, once we purchase an item, we will instead see ads that go with or enhance our item.

Smart devices will get even smarter.   Right now, there are limitations to what these devices can do.  With a smart fridge, a user can use their app to see what is in the fridge while they are away.  But maybe in the future, a user can set items to automatic purchase.  So if someone is running low on an item, the item will then be added to the user’s Instacart list.  Maybe this will be based on weight and or quantity.  The user can then pause this function if they are going out of town, or don’t need groceries that week.  Or maybe items such as Google Home will soon replace ALL smart devices, and even without a voice command, based on previous behavior, the device will anticipate all of the user’s home needs.

As VR headsets become more commonplace and more advanced, imagine the types of ads that will appear.  The sponsored content for kids and adults could become very engaging.  And just *maybe* people will be less annoyed with ads if they are enjoyable rather than just a nuisance that you have to wait for in order to use your item.

 

The Changing Face of News

Growing up, I always looked forward to reading the Sunday paper.  During the week, I didn’t have time to read the news before school.  But on Sundays, I would take my time with the huge paper, looking at the ads, the comics and the travel section, along with the main section.  When I moved away to college, I missed that Sunday morning ritual.  Every time I would visit my parents, I would look forward to reading the paper.

As the years have gone by, perhaps to cover the decline in readership, the newspaper raised subscription prices.  Quite a bit.  Combine that with late deliveries, my dad didn’t think it was worth it when he could just read the news online.  He looked at getting a weekend delivery, but the cost was still high.  But he found he missed reading a physical paper.  He decided to subscribe to our local small town paper, which was much cheaper than the metropolitan paper.  But due to budget cuts at the paper, there is no Monday delivery.  I’ve read the paper when I go visit, and there really isn’t much there.  The Sunday paper is so thin and bare.  The national news that is printed is something I have already read online a day or two before.  My dad admits that he gets most of his news on tv or online, but likes the feeling of holding the paper.  He also likes to read the local obituaries.

Other than when I go visit my family, I never read a physical newspaper.  I prefer to go to a few different sites to get my news online.  After years of having free online news, I don’t think I would want to pay for a digital subscription service, but I understand why businesses are trying to implement this.

But sometimes online news isn’t even timely enough.  I think that is where social media comes into play.  I have friends who live all over, and last year, I saw a friend mark herself as “safe” in London, and another time a friend marked himself “safe” in Barcelona.  That led to many posts asking what happened.  Another instance is when something happens to a celebrity.  I’ll see a Facebook post first, and then slowly news sites will have more information.  Earlier this year, at 4am, I experienced my first San Francisco earthquake. I quickly looked online to find more information.  But it was not on any local news site.  I found information on Facebook.   So even though I read the news regularly, I think that social media is a much faster way to spread information.

What does that mean for the future of newspapers and journalism?  With more and more budget cuts, and people expecting free and fast information online, I think it is difficult to say.  Is it worth paying for a digital version of a local newspaper, when certain national sites (such as NBC News) have a local section?  I am curious to see what newspapers will do over the next few years.  Will they make the sites more engaging and interactive so that people are willing to pay?  What about people like my dad, who want to hold a physical paper?  Will newspapers be able to adequately serve both print and digital subscribers when there are funding issues and budget cuts?  I really hope they can.

How big data is improving the user experience

As someone with a UX background, I love data.  Sites like Alexa.com and Statista.com are my friends.  With their collection of big data, I can view and put together a competitive matrix, view and analyze patterns of my target audience, refine my target audience, and put together a persona.  I can then create user tests that will help provide a better user experience for my site or app.

But how can companies use big data to help the average consumer?  This semester I have had to make a lot of purchases for my Multimedia Class.  Recently, I purchased a microphone.  Amazon listed the windscreen that is most used with that microphone.  This made it much easier for me, as I didn’t have to do additional research to find a windscreen that would fit that size microphone.  Amazon will also list related products.  This can be helpful to compare items before I buy.  They also have recommended items based on items I have viewed or purchased.

I wish more stores had a tailored experience.  The last time I was on Macys.com, I was looking at jeans (because all of us women know the struggle is real to find jeans that fit perfectly!).  Today I went to the website, and down at the bottom of the page, they had a “Trending Now” section, with jeans that were on sale.  I think they could do one step better and list the type of jeans I search for.  I always search for bootleg cut jeans, so rather than list a variety of types, they should list the type I have previously searched for (they did have the brand I like at least).  When I view the item, next to it, they have “Customers also shopped” but they list more jeans.  Maybe they could have something that goes with the jeans rather than just more jeans.

I think more recommendations are always better.  Because I love to read, I subscribe to Bookbub.  I can customize the types of books I like to read.  Then, each day, I get an email with free or cheap (under $2) books that I can download through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  I also get additional emails every now and then with books from a previous author that I have read.  I am also prompted to review the book so that I can get an even more customized selection.

Netflix also has recommendations based on things I have watched.  What they don’t have is a way to leave a review.  Some of their original tv shows are pretty good.  About a month or so ago, I was recommended an original movie.  I watched it, and kept waiting for it to get better.  That was the first time I was mad about a movie I had watched—I really wanted that 1.5 hour of my life back.  A quick Google search of the movie showed that critics all felt the same way.  Now I am less likely to trust an original movie just because Netflix recommends it.

I think that when businesses make the extra effort, it is a win-win for customers and the business.  When thinking about how seamless both shopping and getting problems resolved with customer service with Amazon are, it is no wonder why they are king when it comes to retail.  You can buy anything, and it will have those recommended products waiting for you next time you return.

Case Study review: lack of diversity in commercial broadcasting

I’m sad to say that I was not surprised when reading the case study in our textbook by Kristal Brent Zook titled “Blacks Own Just Ten U.S. Television Stations.  Here’s Why.”  As a female minority in America, I am very much aware of the fact that minorities aren’t portrayed that often in popular tv shows or movies (other than the token character).  So it was no surprise to read about TV, film and radio stations.

I was surprised that there actually were regulations in the 1970s, and that progress went backwards when it was repealed in 1995.  I could see that happening under the current administration, but I can’t help wonder why more hasn’t been done over the years to put the Minority Ownership Policy back in place.  With actors boycotting the Oscars in 2016 because of all-white nominees, and many Asian American actors recently speaking out against the lack of diversity on television, I am surprised to have not heard about this issue earlier.

But when can be done?  The case study points out that Clear Channel wiped out many small stations and minority owned radio stations when it went on a buying spree.  Now with big corporations and attempted mergers, it seems even more impossible to fix this situation than it did in the 1970s.  Under the current administration, nothing will improve.  We have already witnessed things get worse for minorities, wildlife, and the environment.  The current FCC chairman made a mockery of people’s concerns about the repeal of Net Neutrality with his video about the things people can still do without Net Neutrality.  I would not expect anything good to come from him, either.

Maybe right now, the best thing is awareness.  Older white males still seem to dominate everything in this country.  As that starts to change, hopefully these important issues will finally change as well.