Cult Japanese cosmetics brand SK-II has collaborated with New Zealand startup Soul Machines to create what they claim is “the world’s first autonomously animated digital influencer.”
Announced at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, by Soul Machines co-founders Mark Sagar and Greg Cross, AI social media influencer YUMI will serve as the first digital face of SK-II’s brand, and will be used to establish more meaningful connections with the younger generation of consumers.
Powered by Google Dialogflow, YUMI will interact with consumers in a human manner, providing beauty advice and guiding them towards a complete skin transformation with the PITERA Essence product.
“YUMI is more than a digital influencer. She is a digital human capable of interacting and engaging in ways technology hasn’t been able to do until now,” said Sandeep Seth, Chief Executive Officer at Global SK-II. “YUMI personifies our goal to combine technology and creativity to benefit customers. She provides the warmth and connection of human touch in the form of a digital experience to make the overall skincare experience at home and in store more enjoyable and compelling.”
In a promo video developed for Cannes, YUMI states that she is “totally obsessed with skincare, which is why I’m the first digital skincare advisor for SK-II, ready to chat any time, any place.” When asked if she has any advice for the audience, YUMI says:
“Moisturise. And I mean you, too. It’s the best way to stay young. Just look at me. Good skincare is what makes my pixels glow.”
While she will perform some customer service-related tasks, SK-II also plans for YUMI to be the new face of the brand.
Unlike most influencers, YUMI is not a free agent and will belong exclusively to SK-II. In addition, she provides multiple advantages as a digital human – 24/7 availability, no contract required, zero likelihood of disputes or disorderly conduct which might bring disrepute to the brand, and possibly more cost-effective.
According to Seth, YUMI is based on a real person, and while she will start out as a mere scan, she will gradually develop her own personality and mannerisms over time. Cross, meanwhile, told Fast Company in an interview that while the currently available technology (such as Siri or Alexa) can generate scripted responses to human language, future technology will be able to offer more unique responses to natural human language.
YUMI is part of a new and growing trend of virtual social media influencers. Other examples, as per a New York Times report, include Lil Miquela (a virtual Instagram influencer created in 2016 by ad agency Brud, who has 1.6 million followers), a trio of digital models fashion label Balmain commissioned British artist Cameron-James Wilson to design, and even a virtual news anchor introduced by Chinese media outlet Xinhua.
According to Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit:
“Social media, to date, has largely been the domain of real humans being fake. But avatars are a future of storytelling.”
While the Federal Trade Commission has not yet “specifically addressed the use of virtual influencers,” it has warned that any companies using these avatars for the purpose of advertising must make sure that “any claims communicated about the product are truthful, not misleading and substantiated.”
Although they may be exciting, the challenge with virtual influencers is whether they can truly be credible and genuine enough to inspire human audiences to develop a connection with them. As quoted by the NY Times, data provided by Captiv8 (an online influencer marketing platform) suggests that people engage less with virtual influencers than they do with human ones, which means that flesh-and-blood influencers are far from becoming redundant.