Ayayi may only be two months old, but she already has almost 90,000 followers. With her blonde bob hairstyle, at first glance, one might actually think of her as a human being of flesh and blood. But she isn’t. Instead, Ayayi is a digitally programmed, hyper-realistic-looking woman modeled as a Chinese girl in her twenties. She debuted on e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book, or RED) in May – and immediately went viral. Ayayi’s very first post racked up three million views.
Like a real-life human influencer, Ayayi can also be booked by companies to host their events. French cosmetics and perfume brand Guerlain immediately expressed interest in working with her for promotional purposes. She has already attended the Disney event “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition” in Shanghai and posted her impressions on Xiaohongshu. Guerlain invited her to the “Beloved Garden” party. The fact that she never actually attended cannot be verified on the web. She was also already seen in a photo with Hong Kong star William Chan. And she’s also developing a partnership with “No Problem”, a label for virtual musicians. Politically, she’s not causing any problems. She even obediently congratulated the launch of the manned spacecraft Shenzhou.
Latest cutting edge 3D technology now allows for light and shadow to be imitated perfectly, especially on her face. This way, there is no longer any difference to a real person on the web. It took developer company Ranmai Technology about six months to develop Ayayi. Around 40 versions of her were produced for this purpose. Ayayi was tailored to the tastes and preferences of Generation Z, those born after 1996. The influencer also looks much more realistic than Hatsune Miku, a virtual singer who went online in Japan in 2007. So far, there are 51 virtual meta-humans worldwide.
China’s e-commerce sector turns over around $75 billion in revenue annually. Influencers or key opinion leaders (KOL) play a vital role in selling. All major Chinese companies now sell their products via live streaming. In 2020, Alibaba sold goods worth more than 60 billion US dollars via live-streaming on its Taobao platform, an increase of around 50 percent compared to the previous year. Taobao currently hosts over 4,000 live streams.
In doing so, companies rely on well-known faces to ensure customer loyalty and trust in the products and create demand where there was none before. Online sales personas made famous by live-streaming, such as charismatic Li Jiaqi, who regularly breaks sales records with her lipstick tests, are becoming increasingly important to China’s economy.
However, as the market power of influencers grows, so does government scrutiny. In May, China’s regulators issued new rules to regulate live-streaming platforms. Providers such as Kuaishou must now ensure that they do not offer products and services that are “illegal or unsuitable for sale via live-streaming,” as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced on its website. This includes offering fake products, but also falsifying viewer numbers, promoting pyramid schemes, or promoting illegal gambling.
Digital counterparts, a godsend for entrepreneurs
Influencers themselves can also quickly fall out of favor with the Chinese state and companies. In recent months, for example, there have been repeated warnings or even bans. Among the reasons were wasteful handling of food or the sale of adulterated diet pills by live-stream hosts. In such cases, virtual influencers like the aforementioned Ayayi come in handy. They don’t get caught up in scandals, can work around the clock, and are less economically risky and more politically malleable than their human counterparts.
Ayayi is not the first virtual influencer controlled by artificial intelligence. Influencer Ling has been appearing online since May 2020, promoting Tesla as well as Vogue and Nayuki Tea & Bakery. But Ling doesn’t look as sophisticated as Ayayi. Frank Sieren