Influencer Marketing: When Storytelling Is the Foundation of Virtual Existence

Frederikke Louise Beck & Kristine Møller Larsen

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

In 2016 the virtual influencer Miquela debuted on Instagram. For almost two years, people were speculating whether she was a real person or a fictional animated character. In 2018 the creators of Miquela the creators of Miquela, an organization called Brud, revealed that she was a robot. Since then, Brud has maintained and manifested the illusion of Miquela as an influencer on Instagram. Her success is, amongst others, reflected in the massive number of followers on Instagram and collaborations with famous brands such as Calvin Klein and Prada. However, recent literature and research indicate that influencers must appear authentic and identifiable i.e. relateable in order to gain success as an influencer. The question is, then, how is it possible for virtual influencers, such as Miquela, to represent authenticity and identification, when they do not exist? The hypothesis of this paper is, that these criteria may not be the fundamental cause or reason for these influencers’ success. Based on this assumption, this thesis seeks to investigate how to create a universe around a popular virtual influencer that appears authentic and identifiable.
The framework of this thesis is divided into three analytical parts and a final discussion. First, it will be examined how a storytelling universe is created around the virtual influencer, Miquela. In this section we will analyze the structure and content of Miquela’s story on Instagram by exploring the various components that constitute and characterize her storytelling. Through this analysis, it is identified that Miquela’s storytelling universe consists of fundamental and well-known elements that generally make up a good story.
Then we examine whether Miquela, in virtue of her storytelling universe, appears authentic. In this section, we analyze how the creators of Miquela strategically shape her identity and appearance, in order to make her seem authentic. Within this analysis, it is revealed that Miquela manages to mediate authenticity by means such as disclosing personal and intimate information, appearing on pictures with famous people, and posting content from real locations. As a result of her authentic appearance, the Instagram account of Miquela has gained more than two million followers and received Instagram’s verified badge, even though she does not exist.
In the last part of the analysis, it will be examined whether Miquela, on the basis of her storytelling universe, appears as a character that other Instagram users can identify with. In this section we will analyze how Brud creates an illusion of interactivity between Miquela and Instagram users. This analysis revealed that by responding to Instagram users’ comments and showing mutual interest in her followers, signs of parasocial interaction between Miquela and other Instagram users were identified. Furthermore, this analysis allowed us to identify elements of a personal, relatable, and relevant character in her content to whom many users can identify with.
Finally, the results of this paper will be discussed, in addition to how the applied methodology and theory has affected these results. Though Miquela’s primary presence takes place on Instagram, she is also an active member of other social media sites, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify. Building on this, the discussion will further elaborate on the question of whether her appearance on these social media sites, in addition to her presence on Instagram, has affected her success as a virtual influencer.
Based on this thesis, it is concluded that an authentic and identifiable universe has been created around Miquela through storytelling by incorporating a wide range of strategic communication tools and well-known elements. These strategies varied from stories such as fairy tales, movies, to journalistic news and good content on social media.
From a personal point of view, this thesis serves as the basis for a broader understanding of the new phenomenon of virtual influencers as well as the root of their success. The insights and conclusions of this paper are considered a relevant extension of present research and understanding of the field. Furthermore, the results of this thesis may also be useful to companies and communication agencies that are considering collaborations with a virtual influencer or even creating their own.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageDanish
Publication date2020
Number of pages173
SupervisorsLena Mygdam Zwisler