Influencer marketing has come a long way since the days when only celebrities endorsed products. In recent decades, social media has connected consumers to “real people” whose opinions are more trustworthy, from seasoned authorities to young hipsters.

In fact, the bond of trust between consumers and influencers has been so effective in driving sales that the role of influencer has gone from side-gig to full-time job, with some influencers having millions of followers.

But a new influencer on the scene is causing quite a controversy. Meet Miquela or “Lil Miquela” as her million-plus followers refer to her. Like many influencers in the fashion world, she sports a cool look and promotes all the brands that help her achieve it. She also gives voice to causes like Black Lives Matter.

But while Miquela looks like a model on the outside, she’s quite different on the inside. Because Miquela is a CGI (computer generated image). She was created in 2016 by a Los Angeles-based company called Brud and funded by numerous venture capital firms.

If you look closely enough, it’s apparent Miquela is not human. Nevertheless, a year after pulling the wool over some followers’ eyes, Miquela came clean on Instagram by posting “I’m a robot.” However, nobody has fully disclosed who is behind the curtain on her posts. You’d surmise they were paid for and controlled by advertisers, but so far, Miquela’s computer-generated lips are sealed.

Miquela is part of an emerging world of virtual influencers, and this has consumer protection watchdogs sounding the alarm for more transparency.

So what does this all mean to our industry, or society for that matter?

Are CGI influencers breaching some ethical standard? Should they be more transparent or even forced to provide legal disclosures? Are they tarnishing the trustworthy world of influencer marketing?

Are CGI influencers an opportunity for marketers who want more control over their image and message? Or is it best to stick with good old-fashioned humans, whose words may be more trusted?

One thing’s for sure: the lines between reality and virtual reality are continuing to blur, and that raises many questions that relate to transparency, trust and branding opportunities.

At KHJ, we support innovations in influencer marketing, but we also believe that honesty and transparency are important for any brand. As long as customers know what they’re getting with CGI influencers, we view them as an intriguing possibility for brand building.

What do you think? Are the Miquelas of the world a good opportunity or a bad thing for influencer marketing? Walt wants to know – in the event dog CGIs start pitching puppy chow.