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What Gucci’s Robot Influencer Campaign Says About the Future of Social Marketing

This summer, Gucci launched a WeChat campaign to connect with its luxury-loving Chinese audience, using a Japanese robot influencer to do so.

Given the name Erica and assigned an age of 23 years, the robot personality—packed with 13 microphones and 24 sensors—dons head-to-toe looks from the Italian luxury house in the online campaign, which garnered upward of 10,000 page views, according to Jing Daily. Earlier this year, reports indicated that Erica, with her conversational capabilities, could be destined for a career as an on-air TV news anchor.

Virtual influencers cropped up several years ago and are showing no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

While the circumstances of Erica’s origins were never in doubt—she was created by a Japanese robotics professor—influencers like mysterious Instagram personality Lil Miquela have attracted an onslaught of questions: is she real? Is she a digital fake? Who’s behind her creation and her account, which to date is followed by more than 1.3 million fans?

Given luxury’s air of unattainability, non-human influencers in all of their perfection in many ways make the perfect partners for high-end brands. They never have bad skin days or uncooperative hair. Makeup? Flawless every time. Their perfect figures don’t require any maintenance or dieting—and the fashion always fits, no tailoring required.

Their personalities are also crafted to be as pleasing or polarizing as desired. For her part, Lil Miquela reps just about every current social hot-button issue, speaking out about the recent child-separation uproar rocking the immigration debate and promoting causes like Black Lives Matter and Black Girls Code.

The jury’s out on whether Erica will make any future fashion appearances, but scroll through Lil Miquela’s Instagram feed and you’ll find her posing in or with merch from brands including Opening Ceremony and Supreme, which adds to her previous posts featuring Prada, Diesel and Chanel.

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What’s the appeal of these android influencers? For one, there’s rarely the risk of scandal and embarrassing headlines that are part and parcel of partnering with the latest Hollywood bad boy or striving starlet. A robot or digital persona will never throw back one too many and make a regrettable mistake. That’s an attractive quality for brands looking to maximize their marketing impact with the potential for minimal, if any, fallout.

Plus, this new breed of influencers is targeted squarely at younger millennials and Gen Z—there’s a reason these virtual and robot creations are closer to 18 than 85. Digital natives themselves, young consumers may not be as concerned about whether the influencer is real as they are about what the bot stands for.