Virtual influencers risk flooring creator pay rates


Issue #128 | Your reading time this week is 5 mins. 45 secs.

Welcome back to the Creator Briefing.

Here’s just some of what I’ve been thinking about this week:

  • Ad regulator unveils AI-heavy new 5-year strategy

  • New data from CORQ shows mixed news for influencer disclosure

  • HMRC gunning for creator tax money

  • The Spanish virtual influencer and the AI model agency behind her

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The ASA unveils new 5-year strategy

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published its new 5-year strategy titled: AI-assisted collective ad regulation.

The strategy covers 2024-2028 and aims to be more preventative and proactive in its approach rather than focus on reactive complaints casework.

The UK’s ad regulator is set to process over 3m ads through its Active Ad Monitoring system in 2023. The intention is to ramp up this figure through increased reliance on AI. 

The ASA will use AI to identify and act against irresponsible online ads, including influencer ads. The watchdog will also provide more detailed reporting on compliance levels on those online ads.

To enforce ad regulation, the ASA says it will use industry sanctions and partnerships with statutory regulators.

Specialist creators drive 10x more engagement than generalists

CORQ, the influencer intelligence service analysed influencer #ads across 15,000 Instagram accounts to reveal what really delivered consumer engagement for brands.


  • Riches in the niches - Specialist creators drove 10x more engagement than lifestyle generalists. Whilst lifestyle generalist creators delivered an average consumer engagement rate of 0.6% on sponsored posts specialists focusing on a vertical delivered an average engagement rate of 6.4%.

  • POC creators produced 58% of 2023's top viral adverts. However, just 22% of influencers who posted the most #ads in 2023 were people of colour.

  • YOY increase of +441% in influencer adverts labelled with #AD. 11,267 ads included #AD this year vs only 2,081 in 2022. However the report claims the number of influencer adverts labelled incorrectly spiked from 1,411 in 2022 to 10,427 in 2023.

Mixed news on disclosure 

From a trust in advertising point of view the good news is that 11,267 influencer ads were marked with #AD this year compared with just over 2,000 last year. 

The not-so-good news is the growth in use of ambiguous ad markers. #gifted jumped from 664 in 2022 to 4,875 in 2023

  • #PR jumped from 700 in 2022 to 5,107 in 2023

  • #affiliate jumped from 41 in 2022 vs 387 in 2023

  • Possible reasons for growth in use of ambiguous ad markers:

Influencers are using Instagram’s ‘In Paid Partnership’ label to denote the commercial arrangement with a brand but doubling up with #gifted or #PR to inform their community - and other viewers on the Gram - that they received product, experience or service rather than cold hard cash for the work.

Similarly, perhaps #affiliate was used alongside the ‘In Paid Partnership’ label to declare that the influencer was recompensed through share of sales rather by directly creating the content.

The growth in ambiguous markers might also mean that the ASA’s work is having some traction - but that more needs to be done to ensure influencers’ ads are obviously identifiable as ads. 


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HMRC using AI to track influencers

HMRC has launched a pilot scheme in Northern Ireland which includes tracking gifts sent to influencers and other non-declared commercial relationships. 

The tax authority hopes to eventually claw back £1.2 billion from influencers.

According to a Belfast Live article if influencers have appeared anywhere electronically, their information will be seen as fair game for HMRC's 'Connect' system which can track records from: bank and credit cards to passenger information on flights. 

Spanish agency creates virtual influencer

Meet Aitana Lopez, a 25-year-old Spanish model with pink hair and gym-honed physique. She’s also an AI-powered virtual influencer.

Aitana is the brainchild of Rubén Cruz, founder of AI modelling agency The Clueless. According to their website the company aims to build AI models that “go beyond mere appearances, capturing the essence of diverse personalities and experiences.”

To date Cruz’s team has built two virtual influencers: Aitana and her AI colleague Maia Lima.

I pointed out some of the benefits to brands of virtual influencers in this Routledge text book on influencer marketing back in 2020. Benefits include: always turning up to the shoot on time, always looking immaculate, always being brand-safe. 

Virtual influencers however present issues around authenticity, representation and the potential to drive down the cost of human influencers. 

Chinese influencers quit rather than use own names

On October 31, Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Zhihu, Xiaohongshu, and Kuaishou, announced a requirement for macro influencers to display their legal names to the public. 

Weibo told its social media users it would first target influencers with over 1m followers. It would then turn to influencers with between 500k and 1m followers. 

Turns out many large influencers would rather quit the business than give up their anonymity. According to a Rest of the World article several influencers have either culled their follower numbers to get below the initial 1m number or left social media altogether. 

Too authentic

Yu Wenliang, a university student in China, blew up on Douyin last month by uploading 10-second relatable videos of himself going about his daily chores. The teen started October with 100k followers but ended the month with 3.8m. 

However, after explaining he was only in it for the money during a livestream he lost 600k followers. 

When his livestream co-host said he thought live-streaming sessions were all about quan qian, i.e raising money by setting a trap to cheat innocent investors, Yu said he agreed with him adding “let’s just quan qian together, bro.”

Creator paywalls: ByteDance says yes. Tumblr says no more

TikTok owner ByteDance is reportedly testing a paywall feature for content creators on its short video platform Douyin in China according to Reuters

The trial allows some influencers with 100,000+ followers to place part of their videos behind a paywall on Douyin. ByteDance then collects a 30% cut as commission.

Meanwhile at Tumblr Post Plus subscriptions are being killed off. Starting in January 2024 Tumblr will no longer let creators make paywalled content.

Meta’s new EU ad-free subscription offering challenged 

Austrian advocacy group None Of Your Business (NOYB) has filed a complaint with an Austrian regulator, about Meta’s paid-for ad-free subscription offering launched earlier this month (see Creator Briefing #124). 

The ‘pay us or be tracked’ scheme costs €9.99/month on web or €12.99/month on iOS or Android - with additional accounts charged extra.

NOYB contends this fee is “way out of proportion” to the value Meta derives from tracking users in the region. The group says Meta’s average revenue per user in Europe is €62,88 per year yet the ad-free subscription works out at a minimum of €120 per year. 

"EU law requires that consent is the genuine free will of the user. Contrary to this law, Meta charges a 'privacy fee' of up to 250 euros per year if anyone dares to exercise their fundamental right to data protection," NOYB lawyer Felix Mikolasch said. 

Report: Internet use does not appear to harm mental health

There’s no widespread harm to mental health from social media, a group of researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute found, though more data was needed from tech companies to confirm a connection. 

Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, who said their study of 2m internet users was the largest of its kind, said they found no evidence to support “popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk” from the technology according to the Financial Times.

However, Andrew Przybylski, professor at the institute said that the data necessary to establish a causal connection was “absent” without more co-operation from tech companies.

If apps do harm mental health, only the companies that build them have the user data that could prove it, he said.

Here’s what else I’ve been reading this week:

YouTube Shorts is piloting AI features with some influencers. Dream Track enables creators to generate songs, including lyrics, melody, and accompaniment, in the styles of seven different artists including Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato, Sia, and T-Pain.

Manual labour: Still scrolling through your feed with your fingers like a chump? iPhone users can scroll through TikToks using just their voice. Mashable shows you how. 

Kids using generative AI Four in five (79%) online teenagers in the UK aged 13-17 now use generative AI tools and services, with a significant minority of younger children aged 7-12 also adopting the technology (40%) according to Ofcom.

YouTube Shorts ads are being rolled out to more advertisers as the feature moves out of beta. Full rollout expected within months. 

News consumption Several TikTok news creators tell Rolling Stone why more people getting their news from the short-form video site ain’t no bad thing. 

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