AI Influencers: why they could be a real game changer for the creator economy

Generative AI is rendering virtual influencers more realistic than ever. Able to communicate in real-time, in any language under the sun, are they ushering in a new ear of influencer-dom?

Sika Moon
"Sika sieht immer Bombe aus, hat nie ihre Tage, braucht keinen Urlaub, ist immer top gelaunt, trägt was ich ihr sage." Wenn das mal kein Argument ist, sich als optimierte KI-Version seiner selbst neu zu erfinden, um im Creator-Game vorne mitzuspielen (Foto: Sika Moon)

Oh my how things change. Influencers, those young spry beautiful people, who out of nowhere transformed into the omnipotent embodiment of envy and lust, transforming brand managers and marketers into junkies feening for a hit of engagement, a taste of reach. No sooner than they burst onto the scene, these gatekeepers of digital clout may soon no more. For we are on the brink of a revolution: a plethora of ubiquitous and easy-to-use AI tools have birthed virtual characters whose shape, content and followers are indistinguishable from that of real influencers. They’re faster, more flexible and cheaper. While the revolution was hatched in the seedy dens of NSFW treasure seekers, they’re penetrating other more reputable pastures, markets and brands. OMR spoke to a pioneer in the AI model space from Berlin, the brains behind Onlyfans’ rival, and heavy AI-model investor, Fanvue and to a Spanish agency specialized in designing virtual creators da nada. Aye caramba.

If there was ever a Turing test for AI models (note: attest to determine if a machine is capable of human intelligence), it’s surely the moment when the first professional athlete slides into an influencer’s DMs to ask for a date. "How could such a beautiful woman not have a boyfriend?" No, this cheese is not from Manchego, but a top German player—allegedly—to influencer Emily Pellegrini. At least that's what her creator claimed in a recent interview; Pellegrini is not a 21-year-old LA-based bombshell, but the personification of what “every man wants” in a woman—and the creation an anonymous man.

The perfect reiteration of self

Requests for dates, dinner invites in Dubai, marriage proposals, Sika Moon’s inbox has it all. The pseudonym is that of a woman originally hailing from northern Germany; she worked as a teacher in Berlin before earning beaucoup bucks with a beau cul and erotic content on Onlyfans. After five years and some time off, she recently reinvented herself as an AI model.

That’s what Sika Moon’s puppeteer told us in writing at least, as she only communicates through email to protect her identity. Sika is an "optimized version" of herself, she says. "Her physical form is more beautiful, fuller lips, darker complexion, a touch of the exotic—the way I would have created myself if someone had asked me."

More traction than nearly every “real” model on Fanvue

She started Sika without any commercial interest, but more of an interest to try out tools such as ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney. By networking with other AI model creators, she learned a lot, her prompts got better and it picked up steam. "Suddenly I had 30k followers on Instagram and thought, there’s potential." Many of them soon followed her on Onlyfans, until the platform blocked her account—Onlyfans does not yet allow AI-generated creators.

Competitor Fanvue was more forgiving, provided that there were no attempts to conceal the fact that the content was created using AI tools. "I became Fanvue's first AI model and am now among the top 0.1 percent of successful creators on Fanvue," writes Sika. "More successful than almost all of the real models on the platform." According to media reports, they earn in the mid to high five-figure range per month. The Berlin native does not want to disclose her exact income. "But it's very lucrative."

Persistence and hard work: two keys to success for AI models

To be clear, virtual influencers are not new. Probably the most-prominent is Lil Miquela, created in 2016 by an agency in Los Angeles, the fictional character has since had dozens of collab deals with various brands from fashion labels to Samsung and BWM.

However, AI models have raised the stakes. On the one hand, Gen-AI tools are now so good that the images they produce are hardly any different from photos of real influencers, which are usually heavily edited. Above all, these tools are so accessible that interested laypeople can master them with a little persistence and perseverance. Fortune seekers are popping up all over the place, unsurprisingly.

"We've seen a 2,650% increase in AI creators on the platform. It's been rolling month on month," says Will Monange. The founder and CEO of Fanvue loves the development. As such, he opened up his subscription platform as one of the few for AI content. In conversation with OMR, however, another aspect is important to Monange, which could be described as the democratization of the influencer business.

Major AI accounts are typically a team effort

In the end, generative AI knocks down barriers preventing the normies among us from being a part of the creator economy. They can partake relardless of appearance or whether the virtual influencer is person or a group,” says Monange. In fact, large AI model accounts like Emilia Pellegrini are usually run by teams. He knows this because Fanvue actively targets this new, rapidly growing group and wants to get them on the platform.

Monange's platform has also placed AI technology at the center of its own growth strategy. Under the Fanvue AI label, several tools have launched to facilitate the work of creators and open up new opportunities for them. A practical example: suggested responses in the live chat function. It analyzes incoming messages and suggests answers. The time required to respond to messages is reduced from several minutes to just a few seconds. 

Now it's NSFW—but not for long?

Even though the function was developed to accommodate the needs of new AI model creators, it’s struck a chord with most anyone using Fanvue. According to Monange, 45 percent of active creators use it. Monange estimates that 70 to 80 percent of those create adult content—it continues to be the biggest slice of the subscription cherry pie. Moving forward, however, Fanvue wants to attract creators from other areas. Some Twitch streamers are already using the platform. According to Monange, he can foresee nutritionists learning how to leverage Fanvue's built-in scalable infrastructure thanks to AI. Ultimately, it's about everyone who has a large audience on reach platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok and wants to monetize it, says the Fanvue founder. "So in the next five years, we'd like fanvue to be at the home for that."

AI is a show-biz game changer

Sika Moon uses whatever she can get her virtual hands on. In addition to the AI chat function, she likes the translation function, so that she can communicate in numerous languages or even speak with them in a synthesized version of her voice. "I have a fan with I speak fluent Japanese with." She embraces the new possibilities and firmly believes that AI will permanently change the entire entertainment industry from modeling and adult entertainment to acting and art—like VHS changed the film business, MP3 the music business and CGI the cinema experience. "You don’t have to like it, but you will have to accept it as inevitable."

The optimism is palpable at Fanvue. AI models are constantly collaborating and helping each other to expand their fanbase. It's a bit like the early days of influencing, says Max Kyte, head of partnerships at Fanvue. This community is still young and in its infancy. "Everyone, at least all the creators and everyone involved that I've spoken to, wants everyone else to succeed," says Kyte. "That's the fantastic thing about the AI community."

There are also practical reasons for the high level of mutual support, adds Sika Moon: "Because we can!," she says in response to why go to the effort of arranging a joint shoot for a German and an Australian top model. "In one evening. Without leaving our couch."

People willing to pay for an imaginary GF

While they have not quite reached the upper echelons of top model-dom, they have long since attracted a clientele with money to burn on AI goods.

In 2023, Twitch streamer and erotic model Amouranth published a chatbot on the Fansly platform, which is designed to match her personality. She claims to have made USD 34,000k in sales with her virtual girlfriend “Amouranth AI” within the first 24 hours of her (its?) release. Amouranth is the current gold standard of kink. She recently revealed just how lucrative the business is with a screenshot on X: In 2023 alone, she earned around USD 50m via Onlyfans.

AI models for any business

Aitana is not that far off - and is already keen to embark on the serious path of a career as an influencer. "Barcelona's Digital Muse," as Aitana describes herself on Insta, has around 280,000 followers just eight months after launch. The character is run by The Clueless, an agency based in the Catalan capital that launched the to test out an alternative to increasingly expensive influencers, Sofia Novales, the project manager responsible, says to OMR.

TheClueless.jpg

Aitana Lopez and Maia Lima, the two AI models The Clueless has launched so far. (Screenshot: OMR)

Aitana is designed as a young, sporty urbanite with a passion for gaming. Spanish footballer Alexia Putales was the godmother of her pink hair. She popularized this look at Aitana's launch shortly before the Women's World Cup in the summer of 2023. Aitana's Instagram profile not only features selfies, but also stories documenting her supposed everyday life, from dinners to city trips. There are also more revealing pictures behind the Fanvue paywall. However, "relatively soft" lingerie content, explains Novales. That seems to be enough for the subscribers.

"Aitana is generating very positive revenue," Novales says and confirmed the sum of USD 11,000k per month mentioned in a Forbes article from November 2023. She went on to emphasize that the amount would steadily increase through collaborations.

Blurred lines

The fact that The Clueless maintains a Fanvue profile for its AI model does not seem to deter advertising partners. Novales reports that they have had no problems with brands so far once they have understood the concept of the AI model as a content creator. The agency sees it this way: "We firmly believe that Aitana feels empowered by the content she creates and that her personality shines through," says Novales. So when an AI model decides to take a few Fanvue euros with her, the message could be that this is also a kind of female empowerment.

In fact, the boundaries between fiction and reality seem to blur, and not just for the viewers. Ultimately, it is consistent storytelling when Novales says about Maia, the second AI model of The Clueless, a photographer who has not yet been on Fanvue: "Maia is a photographer, and in the future, if she decides to sell any content, it will revolve around her photography, not nudes.”

Next stop: AI video content

At the same time, the Barcelonans are taking an extremely strategic approach to expanding their portfolio for the Spanish-speaking part of the internet: "We strive for diversity and address different markets with each of our models," says Novales. More characters are already in the works. Laila, a "curvy model from Mexico," is soon to be launched, followed by a male AI model.

"I don't want anyone to believe that the images are completely real," says Sika Moon. And basically, this should be clear even without an explicit disclaimer. Because: "No real model can visit foreign planets or travel in time," says Sika. "Or rule a race of elves." 

330k followers—and a blue checkmark

She emphasizes that, in contrast with anonymous agency AI models, she is not interested in building up a massive amount of reach with the intent of monetizing it via partnerships. Instead, Sika Moon plays with her (um) own identity, which is probably why she comes across as so authentic. Behind the alter ego is her real personality, "with full passion, not just some bot," says Sika.

She now has 330,000 followers, and she is the only AI influencer on Instagram to have received a blue checkmark, as Sika represents a real person both visually and physically. According to Sika, this sets her character apart from the "interchangeable soulless AI models" that agencies are releasing onto the platform en masse.

It’s all fake! So what?

Blurring the lines between reality and make believe is part of the allure and business model, even if not everyone sees it that way. On an Instagram post showing Aitana on a trip to Vienna, one commenter asks: "How can this be allowed? Shouldn't this kind of account be regulated somehow?" The succinct response from another commenter: "So what?"

Follower numbers, sales and the boom in characters show that AI models are being welcomed by a critical mass large enough to support them as players in the influencer business. The Clueless team themselves seem a little surprised at how well the idea of their AI-generated influencer works. "We unintentionally created a monster," says Novales. "A beautiful one, though."

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Scott Peterson
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