Virtual Brand Promoters Are So Lifelike, You Just Might Believe What You See

The reimagined fried chicken kingpin — another virtual being — was designed to spoof the vast ecosystem of influencers, which includes nanoinfluencers, kidfluencers and petfluencers. His creators consulted an inspiration board plastered with photos of human Instagram celebrities to generate the mash-up that became the new Colonel.

“It was our opportunity to poke a little fun at the advertising world that we’re a part of,” said Steve Kelly, KFC’s digital and media director. “But the love around virtual influencers is very real.”

The rising presence of uncannily realistic computer-generated beings in ads can be off-putting, however, in a realm where a manipulated video can make Nancy Pelosi appear to be slurring her words and the Mona Lisa can be “trained” to speak.

“It’s an interesting and dangerous time, seeing the potency of A.I. and its ability to fake anything,” Mr. Ohanian said.

Lil Miquela operated for two years before it was revealed that she was the product of a secretive company, Brud. Its California business registration lists an address in Silver Lake blocked by thick vegetation, but workers, who must sign nondisclosure agreements, said the company actually operates out of downtown Los Angeles. Brud’s public relations firm, Huxley, declined multiple interview requests.

On a public Google Doc that functions as the company’s website, Brud bills itself as “a transmedia studio that creates digital character driven story worlds” and says Lil Miquela is “as real as Rihanna.” Its “head of compassion,” in Brud-speak, is Trevor McFedries, whom Lil Miquela has referred to in several posts as a father figure.

Before co-founding Brud, Mr. McFedries was known as Yung Skeeter, a D.J., producer, director and musician who has worked with Katy Perry, Steve Aoki, Bad Robot Productions and Spotify. He has helped raise millions of dollars in financing from heavyweights like Spark Capital, Sequoia Capital and Founders Fund, according to TechCrunch.

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