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PacSun sparks backlash after announcing virtual influencer Lil Miquela as its newest ambassador

The AI robot is one of social media’s biggest influencers, with more than three million followers on Instagram

Meredith Clark
New York
Wednesday 17 August 2022 17:18 BST
Bella Hadid makes out with Lil Miquela in new Calvin Klein commercial

PacSun has sparked backlash after revealing that its latest spokesperson is virtual influencer Lil Miquela, a CGI avatar who exists solely on the internet.

The American retailer announced its partnership with the self-proclaimed “queen of the metaverse” on 12 August in an effort to strengthen the brand’s digital presence. Miquela (aka Lil Miquela) will collaborate on social content for the California clothing company by amplifying PacSun’s back-to-school and 2022 holiday campaigns.

"I’m so excited to be working with PacSun on this campaign," Miquela said in a press release. "As a fan of their fits, vibe and vision, I couldn’t be happier to partner up as we explore what the future of fashion and culture looks like for a new generation."

Who is Lil Miquela? The perpetually 19-year-old robot has three million followers on Instagram, where she posts about life in Los Angeles with her quirky fashion and never-changing space buns hairstyle. The AI influencer was spawned in 2016 by computer software firm Brud and was named one of Time’s Most Influential People on the internet in 2018. She has since been featured in ads for Prada, embarked on a singing career, and was featured in a campaign for Calvin Klein, which saw the AI kissing Bella Hadid and received backlash for “queerbaiting”.

Lil Miquela also shared the news of her new sponsorship with PacSun with her Instagram followers, writing in her caption: “I’ve never been to school (robot things) but I know y’all need some cute fits before going back!”

According to PacSun, the collaboration is a perfect fit for the brand, as it hopes to capture the young Gen-Z audiences that these computer-generated virtual influencers, well, influence. "Miquela has become a digital muse for PacSun and we’re thrilled to be working with a great example of a strong female advocate and inspiration," said Brieane Olson, president at PacSun.

"She aligns with our core brand values and vision…speaking out on important social issues like BLM and Rally The Vote, as well as achieving inroads into metaverse fashion and culture. Miquela has been travelling to New York City, and we’re excited to invite her to shop with us in our Soho location."

The AI robot is seemingly the perfect ambassador for a brand. She supports social causes like Black Lives Matter, which is proudly stated in her Instagram bio, and has no past controversial tweets that could remove her from a sponsored deal. She also never ages, and clothes will always fit her perfectly in every advertisement.

However, it is for these reasons that the reaction to the announcement has largely been met with criticism, with many questioning what it says about the brand that it was unable, or unwilling, to find a real woman to become its newest ambassador.

“They could have chosen a woman in real life to be their ‘female advocate’ but instead chose a CGI personality who is probably ran by a team of 10 guys,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “Study after study shows social media’s negative influence on young girls’ mental health. They now introduced a CGI generated, impossibly perfect young girl for them to model their look after. This is disgusting.”

“Yes, let’s use a fake person to model real clothes, that will be digitally altered to fit perfectly on the fake model, and never ever look the same on an actual human. Yes, that is how we’ll sell clothing and be relatable as a brand,” someone else wrote.

Additionally, virtual influencers may already be posing a threat to real-life models and social media stars, seeing as Lil Miquela could earn up to $1m this year from sponsored posts, according to data from Influencer Marketing Hub.

PacSun revealed that it plans to lean “more into the virtual influencer space and the metaverse” through the end of 2022.

The Independent has contacted PacSun for comment.

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