She’s 19, has perfect skin, works with brands like Prada and Chanel, and has family and relationship problems like you and me. She has 1.5m Instagram followers, most of them female, who see her as a role model and strive to be like her. Sounds like a normal influencer? — You think so! There is only one big difference: Lil Miquela is not human.
Get to know Lil Miquela
According to her Instagram profile, Lil Miquela is a 19-year-old, American-Brazilian from Downey, California. Although after the first glance at her Instagram feed she seems like a “normal” influencer, Lil Miquela is not human. She is a computer generated image (CGI), created by an LA-based startup called Brud which recently raised $6m in funding from VCs like Sequoia Capital. Lil Miquela stating that she is a robot and at the same time modeling and promoting products, raised criticism. How was she able to raise money and what is the secret of success of the company that created her?
Lil Miquela — Drama Drama Drama
In April 2018, Lil captured our attention in a way that was better than any TV show or series on Netflix. Here’s a timeline of everything you need to know.
Bermuda, another CGI, currently counting 124k followers on Instagram, hacks Lil Miquela’s IG account and gives her 48 hours to tell the world the truth about herself.
After being active on Instagram for almost two years, Lil Miquela states in the most dramatic way: “I’m not a human being.”
Brud, the company that created Lil Miquela, posts a statement, that they saved her from Cain Intelligence, an AI consulting firm (which of course doesn’t exist) that wanted to turn Lil into a servant and sex object. They apologize to Lil and explain that they always tried to be honest and straightforward when she asked about her identity. But Lil doesn’t accept their apology and decides to go her own way.
Lil Miquela posts a highly emotional post claiming that she will never forgive Brud, the company that created her.
Lil adds a picture of her in her hometown Downey to her feed, where she hopes to find closure. She claims that she feels quite alone since Brud betrayed her.
The drama finally ends. Lil uploads a picture of her with the two founders of Brud and Blawko, another Artifical Influencer Brud created, with the caption “I’m back with my family”.
Looking for an ambitious, talented young addition to your team?
Lil Miquela could be the perfect fit: she is only 19, but already released a Spotify single and partnered with Prada for Milan Fashion Week, where she posted several 3D generated stories. But that’s not all — she modeled for brands like Chanel, Coach, and Balenciaga, promoted hair products from QUAI for “keeping her strands silky smooth”. , got featured in magazines like Highsnobiety and Vmagazine and hangs out with celebrities like the Olsen twins. In June, she got rated as one of “The 25 most influential people on the Internet” by the Time Magazine, along with stars like Rihanna and Kanye West.
In addition, this October she got hired as an art editor by the London-based digital lifestyle magazine Dazed, “thanks to her experience as “a musician and activist on the side of her modeling work”. Adding Lil Miquela to the team raised criticism that “real people” should be focused on instead of CGIs:
However, Lil Miquela was not only criticized because of her new job. After revealing that she’s not human, she also gained haters:
But as the businesswoman that she is, Lil Miquela used that hate to get even more popular. October 2018 she published a song called “Hate me” featuring Baauer on YouTube, addressing all those haters:
That Lil Miquela is successful, is a fact. But let’s find out how she raised to the top.
The secret sauce — Storytelling
Why are people scrolling through their Instagram feeds? People are short on time and attention, but they love to be entertained. That’s exactly what Brud, a talented team of storytellers and designers, is focusing on.
Brud created an entire cast of virtual characters on Instagram (Lil, Bermuda, and Blawko) and lets them interact. The result is a hit drama TV show on Instagram, nobody can stop following. The Global Creative Marketing Manager at Netflix brings it to the point:
The highlight of this story was Lil Miquela being hacked by Bermuda: after the hack, it was revealed that Bermuda and Lil were both created by Brud, and the drama was only a PR stunt.
But the drama is not the only secret of success of Lil Miquela. Brud manages to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction by creating highly real captions for her Instagram posts. For example, after being named one of the 25 most influential people, Lil Miquela says:
And five days after New Year's Eve she wonders:
These captions give us the feeling of Lil Miquela being a real person and are topped by her giving interviews and writing in her openly accessible diary. In an interview with Wonderland she states that in her free time, she likes
“Catching up with friends, going on Netflix binges and petting random dogs on the street. Daily.”
And what most probably everybody of us can relate to, is what she posted in her diary after moving back to Brud, her “parents”:
All in all, Lil Miquela's content might be more engaging than that of “real” influencers. The story is so well written, that once started, you just can’t stop following it.
Lil Miquela = the new Kardashian?
Lil Miquela's success is not only confirmed by the high amount of prestigious brands she worked with or the number of followers she obtained, but also by the recent investment round her company received. According to the WSJ, Brud received $6m funding last year from VCs like Sequoia Capital, BoxGroup and SV Angel which thereby invested in a highly attractive market (currently worth $2 billion).
Cyan Banister, partner at Founders Fund who invested $100.000 in Brud’s seed round in May 2017, states that for Lil Miquela, becoming the next Kardashian brand is the goal:
However, raising such a high amount of money raised criticism again:
Others wonder if the money could have been better invested:
The brains behind the beauty
Brud and their employees are very secretive about what they are doing. According to LinkedIn, they currently have 19 employees. Trevor McFrederies (33), who defines himself as “Head of Compassion”, was known as Yung Skeeter and worked as a DJ, director, and producer for stars like Katy Perry and Steve Aoki. Sara DeCou (27), his co-founder (and “Chief of Stuff”), was recently listed in Forbes “30 Under 30”.
Similar to their “creation”, both support the black community and female empowerment. When looking for funding, McFedries, who is black, and DeCou, a Latina, stated, that they only accepted money from VCs with “a woman or person of color in a position to write them a check”.
No AI, but rather 3D software
What amazing technology is behind Lil Miquela? Lil Miquela is a CGI, which means she is a visual content created with imaging software. But which software was used in order to create her? On their company website, Brud defines itself as “[…] an LA-based technology startup specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics.” However, according to people familiar to the company, Brud is not so much a tech company, but rather performance art. Although Brud is very secretive about how Miquela is created, her competitors provide more information. The creator of Shudu, another CGI counting 153k followers on IG, revealed that he uses the 3D software Daz3D and Clo3D in order to create his pictures.
The New York Magazine even tried to recreate Lil Miquela, in order to understand how easy it is to create a CGI. Their Motion Graphics Artists used “Fuse and some 4D”, and got pretty good results:
CGIs could change the world
Although the technology behind Lil Miquela and her “friends” is nothing new, CGI could be a huge benefit for models, celebrities, influencers and more. Cameron James Wilson, the creator of Shudu, explains to VOGUE:
“Once someone is scanned, they are, in a way, immortalized. A person’s career could last decades, centuries […]. If the technology to scan and capture Marilyn Monroe had been around then, her career could very much be still going today.”
If models made a detailed scan of themselves, they could be sent around the world for jobs without even traveling.
CGIs- the perfect fit for companies
You know now who Lil Miquela is, what’s the tech behind her and the drama about her. But why are companies like Prada and Diesel interested in working with her?
According to Ryan Detert, CEO at Influential, using CGI’s is a great way for brands to “show they’re creative and on the cutting edge of technology”. Lil Miquela has a lot of GenZ and Millennial followers — if a company wants to reach that audience, she’s the perfect fit. Compared to working with traditional influencers, brands have way more control about the image. They don’t have to worry about the CGI’s behavior — like drugs or crime — and they can be sure before the picture is made, that the pose and angle fit their expectations.
However, there is one big problem. Lil Miquela promotes several products on her Instagram feed, but it’s not made clear on her posts if she gets paid for it. Right now, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) only has guidelines for HUMAN social influencers to ensure that product endorsements are identifiable as ads — these guidelines have to be adapted.
The big question about authenticity
Although CGIs seem to be highly interesting for companies, they receive a lot of criticism. According to Jennifer Grygiel from Syracuse University, creators take it one step too far when they keep them guessing about what exactly Lil Miquela is. As Brud didn’t reveal Miquelas “real identity”, for two years, people — and especially teenagers — could have thought that this is a real person.
And although Lil Miquela’s profile now states that she is not real, her followers are still confused:
“Are you human?”
“Hold up is she a robot or is that sum extreme makeup skills because I’m mad confused here”
“Wait is she a physical Robot, like could I walk past her in a street or are their people who just run the account?”
This problem in combination with Lil Miquela promoting products raises the question of how a nonhuman can test and share her opinion about e.g. hair products. Some call it even lying.
Before judging Lil Miquela and writing comments like “be quiet robot” or “Shut up, you’re a fucking robot”, we should all think about how “real” we are ourselves, and how real the stuff is we currently see on Instagram. Aren’t the most of us applying filters before uploading a pic to our feed, in order to look better? Haven’t most of us adjusted the reality in stories or in captions to make them more interesting, more engaging? And do the products we see in advertisements really make the kind of hair or the kind of eyelashes we are promised?
Lil Miquela is not less authentic than other influencers. The only difference is that she has a team behind her that is great in storytelling and creating engaging content that probably entertains us more than any human ever could. And who knows — maybe this year Brud reveals that she — in fact — is a human. I personally can’t wait to follow her story.