Visionary Marketing spoke with Katja Graisse – co-founder of Balistikart, an independent digital creative agency – to discuss the Incognito AI Influencer Project. We touch on the benefits and limitations of AI-generated influencers, the intertwining of art and business, and more. Katja provides an optimistic assessment of the current digital landscape, proclaiming that the usage of AI allows for media involvement that is more flexible, sustainable, and ironically, honest. However, not everyone is transparent about AI personalities – some have used deepfakes in intentionally deceptive ways, causing many to question the technology’s true impact on our lives. What the future has in store for virtual influencers is unknown at this point.
The Incognito AI Influencer Project
Do you want to give us an introduction and describe what the Incognito influencer project is?
We created the Incognito influencer project at the start of New York Fashion Week this year with the idea of creating an AI-generated influencer who would be able to engage with the Parisian fashion world from behind our screens and live all the different experiences that Fashion Week can offer through this influencer.
From there on, we tried to decipher some of the trends that the Fashion Week was having and try to put those into the storytelling that we give to this influencer. The whole notion that he is incognito is kind of paradoxical because the aim of most influencers is not to be incognito. Quite the contrary. And in this case, we wanted to have somewhat of the fashion underdog who is trying to infiltrate the fashion world as best he could.
Where did you first get the inspiration for a fashion underdog?
Every year we collect information and create a report on the fashion weeks, and so the idea was to be able to look at them from the front row and then be able to report them in a more fun way than we usually do through our trend reports. It was also a desire to be able to test AI technology, as we know that this is up-and-coming and that we’re now seeing more and more AI-generated influencers that have been appearing and we wanted to basically test and explore and therefore the term project behind Incognito influencer.
What advantages do you think virtual influencers have over real-life influencers today?
I think virtual influencers are perhaps a little more docile than real influencers. They don’t have whims or demands when it comes to flying first class or what have you. It also is interesting when it comes to the luxury industry, which likes to have control. When you have an influencer, you can actually pretty much control all of the parameters. The other idea was to have a project that was proof of concept. And so we wanted to start an influencer with zero followers and not do any media spending or such. All that we’ve done so far has been organic, and we’ve seen that the response has been tremendous from all of the followers.
You’ve described the project as art. Would you say that this starting-from-scratch philosophy is related to this in some way?
I think the whole idea was to create a character that’s all about autofiction. You have the author, the character himself, the prompter – all of these are one single person. It goes back to Stefan’s early work where he had created a film that was presented at the Centre Pompidou in Paris – which was for the Mobile Film Festival – a 45-minute film called Autofiction. All of this relates to the kind of work that we like to do. We didn’t want to create an influencer that was trying to gain a tremendous number of followers. We’re more interested in the storytelling that goes with his character as he moves from all of these different fashion shows. It’s not the idea of coming up with someone who’s perfect – quite on the contrary – and it enables us to create lots of different fictional characters and situations that might not be truly there in reality.
Have any brands shown interest in this project?
Indeed, we have had some people come and reach out to us. I can’t necessarily disclose who they are at this point, but people who are interested in the concept and who have noted maybe the irony that was involved. We have the hope that we can also team up with younger brands that don’t necessarily have the traction that these major luxury brands may have for the moment. It will be interesting to see how we can perhaps do partnerships with younger brands and put forward their work.
Who would you describe your target audience as?
We have seen that we have a large scope of different demographics. We have Gen Alpha, who is following. We have Gen X who is following, and then we have a whole bracket in between. Mostly male by 60%, but all sorts of age groups and areas around the world.
Virtual influencers tend to have a higher rate of engagement than real-life influencers. Have you noticed this trend yourself?
Certainly, I think the engagement so far has been really, really high. We’ve had about 100,000 impressions and about 350 comments. Quite a good number of likes as well. We see what we are calling “the club of 100” – we have 100 followers who are extremely engaged, both on Instagram and also on Stéphane’s LinkedIn.
Stepping back a little, how would you describe an influencer in today’s world?
If we look at traditional influencers today, they have become extremely subject to monetization. A lot of them today are basically following this very specific mold – if you go from one to another, it’s very hard to differentiate them. You do have some exceptions, but on the whole, it’s become pretty much stale and I think perhaps a little shallow. We believe that with AI-generated images, you can actually create a character that has a lot more say to it, that has a lot more opinion. Influencers today are often less outspoken than they were in the past because they don’t want to bypass their VIP invitation to a dinner or something. So, I think that it is perhaps time to rethink what “influence” is.
How would you describe the distinction between a virtual influencer and a fake profile?
I think the idea of a fake profile is someone who is trying to mislead you. The whole notion of a virtual influencer is that they should be very outspoken about the fact that they are not real and that they’re not trying to mislead you in any kind of way. It’s very important to be transparent and to immediately say “I am a virtual influencer.” We’re dealing with a fictional character, rather than a fake personality who’s trying to impersonate someone or use someone else’s face to gain popularity.
In the case of the influencer incognito influencer project, the whole idea was to actually take Stéphane Galienni’s own face from an ID photo and paste that into all of the AI-generated images that he was doing. He is the real Stéphane, but he’s just interested in a different environment with a different type of clothing. His looks are constant, which is something that other AI influencers sometimes lack.
Is the usage of bot accounts different between virtual influencers and real-life influencers?
Bot accounts have been around for a very long time. However, they do not bring any kind of true engagement to an account because these are fake people, so they’re not engaging with your content in a real way. Having a large number of followers can fool some, but most people are pretty savvy with the fact that if you have a very large following but you have no engagement, no comments, and no likes, then there’s something probably a little fishy about your account. In our case, I don’t think that’s something that we were interested in. The whole idea was not to gain a huge amount of coverage or followers in order to get free tickets to something. The whole idea was to experiment and to be authentic.
In the coming months or years, where do you see this project leading?
I think time will tell. First of all, it takes a lot of energy to be creative on a regular basis. Not only are you generating 1 to 3 images a day, but you have to keep in mind that behind one image, maybe there are 50 trials before we come up with the right one. But people are really eager to see where it will go, and I think everything is open at this point. We sincerely believe that we can do something very creative and very DNA-specific to each brand because the whole idea of creating something from scratch is that you can really try and follow the brand codes, the color schemes, and the whole idea behind the brand. The ideas are so open, and we are certainly on the side of people who are saying, “Wow, technology is really extraordinary. Let’s play with this and see what happens.”
In conclusion, a few thoughts about this AI Influencer project
The advent of AI influencers certainly raises questions about how authenticity is defined in today’s digital landscape. The idea that an AI influencer can represent authenticity and transparency challenges our notions of the concepts – perhaps we must look beyond physical properties to assess creditability. Skepticism of the technology is natural, however – as Deepfakes permeate the digital world, critical evaluation of informational sources is paramount. With an eye to the future, we hope that AI influencers will continue to represent a refreshing spin on a medium, rather than a catalyst for a disinformation campaign.