Lil Miquela, Shudu, Bermuda, Margot, Blawko, Zhi… Virtual influencers are around us, gathering Instagram followers and likes and, of course, brands are crazy to work with them. Because they’re not troublesome. And because they can do whatever they want to do, as long as they pay. And so we should ask ourselves: should real influencers be shaking before the arrival of their virtual rivals?

Let’s face it: the rise of the influencer, this 21st-century figure, is based on, mainly, the love/hate relationship they maintain with those who consume their life through social media. They’re adored for their aspirational aspect, they’re hated for their approach, which at times seems forced. And, in fact, this love/hate basis is also reflected on their relationship with the industry: they’re adored for their product placement, as it is more effective than old school publicity, but they’re hated because they can be unpredictable.

This unpredictability, in fact, could be what makes the influencer scale tip slowly but surely closer towards the real side rather than the virtual one. And, in recent times, we’re living a glorious birth of the virtual version of influencers: digital beings who have come out from creative studios with an impeccable image but, above all, a bullet-proof personality which will never surprise the industry in a. Negative way. They’re the epitome of docility, and that couldn’t be liked more by an increasingly savage kind of capitalism governed by statistics and the money ka-ching.

The first objective of every virtual influencer is, fundamentally, to have the most ‘real’ image possible. And that, with the help of current technology, can definitely be achieved with an image resolution prepared to break the internet. And that would be the case of, for example, the English photographer, Cameron-James Wilson’s creation: Shudu, a very imposing influencer based on supermodels like Alek Wek and Duckie Thot who, in fact, has just been the image of a campaign for Balmain joined by her (also virtual) friends Margot and Zhi. Together they’re the virtual #balmainarmy. And surely they’re a more malleable army than the one formed by the fickle celebrities that usually surround Olivier Rousteing.

Shudu has 157K followers on Instagram. And you’ll ask yourself: how can she then be a threat to Kylie Jenner who has 124M followers? But, beware, because there’s a virtual influencer who has cleared that barrier between the k’s and the m’s, and that’s Miquela Sousa better known as  Lil Miquela. With 1.5M followers, this virtual influencer has a much more defined personality than that of the suggestive Shudu, and that may be where the key to her success lies. She’s fervent advocate of humanitarian causes and an activist for rights of the LGBTQI and African American communities, Lil Miquela keeps on appearing on so many magazine covers, making collaborations with brands (she’s just been the image of Ambush) and she even attends runway shows, the most recent one being Prada in Milan.

Behind this influencer of –fictitious– Brazilian roots is an American startup, Brud, specialised in artificial intelligence and robotics. The creator was Trevor McFedries, who recently has just surprised the whole world again with two other virtual influencers,  Blawko, a guy obsessed with streetwear and hip hop, and Bermuda, a pro-Trump girl who got famous for ‘kidnapping’ Miquela’s social media for a few hours. McFedries’s new creations make it very clear of which path to take with virtual influencers in his conquest of a world ruled by real influencers: more complex and profound personalities who interpret small human dramas but, in fact, seduce more niche targets. Should real influencers be shaking in front of such sophistication and effectiveness that is being reached by virtual rivals? Only time can tell.