Kyra, a 21-year-old “dream chaser, model, and traveller,” has amassed 100,000 followers on Instagram within six months of setting up her profile. Only, people aren’t sure if she’s “real” or a “robot.”
Created by TopSocial in January this year, Kyra is India’s first CGI-rendered virtual influencer, built for the metaverse.
Kyra follows in the footsteps of 19-year-old Brazilian-American Lil Miquela, who debuted on Instagram in 2016 and has over three million followers by now, and South Korea’s Rozy Oh, among others.
Why are people engineering virtual influencers? Mainly because in the metaverse, they’re a big hit with advertisers.
“When we launched Kyra, fashion was one of the first categories we focused on,” Himanshu Goel, TopSocial’s business head, wrote on LinkedIn in April. “We can’t wait to see how Indian fashion brands will participate in the metaverse space.”
Brands love metaverse influencers
Lil Miquela has promoted major fashion labels, including Prada, Chanel, and Burberry. Named Time magazine’s 25 most influential people on the internet in 2018, the virtual model has appeared at Coachella, supported the Black Lives Matter movement, and been virtually photographed with celebrities like Diplo and Bella Hadid, among others.
In any case, she’s not the only one cashing in: Shudu from South Africa is part of the #BalmainArmy. Maya was created by the sports apparel brand Puma. Chinese virtual influencer Ayayi was hired by Alibaba Group as digital manager for a sales event in 2021 and also invited by Guerlain to attend its summer event.
Virtual personalities apparently have higher engagement rates than traditional human influencers. Plus, brands may be able to afford a digital influencer more easily—at least for now. And unlike with real people, advertisers can create their own unique personas for these characters and manipulate the relationships between them.
The danger of digital influencers
Kyra and her counterparts have one thing—a problem—in common: They fit and further body image issues.
“Research has shown that constantly seeing photoshopped, airbrushed, and digitally altered human models has devastating effects on mental health,” beauty reporter Jessica DeFino, told Vice-owned British magazine i-D. “I can only predict that the popularity of virtually-rendered models will further enforce even more unrealistic beauty standards, and compound all of the physical and psychological trauma that comes with them.”