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The Story Behind E.M – Vietnam’s First Virtual Influencer

E.M—a virtual influencer—is a collaborative product between Ogilvy T&A and Colory studio.

Coffee Chats: The Story Behind E.M – Vietnam’s First Virtual Influencer

Source: Ogilvy T&A

Miquela, Shudu, or Imma. This new trend has drawn great interest among millions of young people and has also become a favorite among brands, especially fashion brands

Surprisingly, Vietnam also entered the scene with its first AI influencer.

I first knew E.M Ơi through Instagram stories of designer Tom Trandt. A few months later, his own fashion label – Moi Dien – launched a new collection called “Back To The Future,” featuring E.M as one of the lookbook models. 

Vietcetera paid a visit to meet the creators behind E.M. Here with us are Ms. Hien – the creative director and Mr. Giao – the project manager in Ogilvy T&A to share a broader view on this new niche market. 

How did the idea of E.M start?

Giao: E.M is a collaborative product between Ogilvy T&A and Colory — an animation and 3D studio. We partnered with them on the Toc Tien Clear Head AI project last year. Colory was in charge of the look, while Ogilvy T&A took the role in the content. After that, we started E.M as a small experiment as Artificial Intelligence is still new to Vietnam’s market.

E.M is now a virtual influencer with content generated by a team of copywriters, though we’re aiming to take her to a new level as an AI influencer with abilities to think and learn new data on her own.

Hien: The Colory team is very open when it comes to developments of 3D technology, especially in the field of fashion. They could be over the moon about successfully simulating the shape of clothes on the skin or in movement. Their curiosity, ardor in work, and established credibility are the major reasons we chose them to be our partners. 

How did you decide the look of E.M?

Hien: Unlike A.I Toc Tien, E.M is not portrayed based on a particular individual. We processed a database of myriad photos of young Vietnamese women to generate several different looks.

E.M’portrait | Source: Ogilvy T&A
E.M’portrait | Source: Ogilvy T&A

The E.M that you are familiar with today is the final decision after careful consideration. E.M does not hold onto any model or influencer standards. She has a plump pretty face that you can see in any ordinary girl.

The hardest part of E.M that needed to get right is her hair. During the 3D process, we have to depict each strand of hair to perfection – the length, the color it would appear in different lighting. Most Vietnamese girls prefer shoulder-length hair which can easily get messy on the tips, thus choosing this hairstyle for E.M is a real risky challenge for us to tackle.

It could take up to 10 days or two weeks to finish a photo of E.M as we have to take reference photos of real humans to fully perceive the shades of lights and shadows on the skin, thereby speeding up the 3D designing process.

Will E.M’s appearance change over time?

Hien: Not really. There are actually subtle changes in her looks according to photo concepts or different times of the year. For example, during Tet holidays, E.M might be slightly thinner than usual as she wants to look good in Ao dai. Sometimes, you could tell whether she feels blue or unwell from her facial expressions and untidy hair. Such small details make significant differences in adding a more realistic and nuanced sense to E.M. 

Source: Ogilvy T&A 
Source: Ogilvy T&A 

E.M might possess her own voice in the future. To make this dream come true, there are two options to consider: simulating a real human voice or building a database containing different voices to generate a new one. Global voice technology has witnessed some revolutions, including the Jukebox project that has successfully produced simulations of Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, or Elvis Presley’s voices. I believe we could find a capable partner in Vietnam to generate a global-standard quality voice for E.M like that.

Are there any untold stories behind the collaboration with Moi Dien’s “Back To The Future” collection you want to share?

Giao: We had a great time working with Tom Trandt as he showed a great interest in the use of digital tools in fashion and, on top of that, he had faith in us. His generosity also amazed me – he provided us with every essential clothes image and pattern as references for 3D modeling. 

We were also invited to the photoshoots for the collection’s lookbook, allowing us a much closer view of the fabric materials, as well as a more detailed understanding of how the lights come out on the models. 

E.M as a model in Moi Dien’s “Back To The Future” lookbook | Source: Ogilvy T&A 
E.M as a model in Moi Dien’s “Back To The Future” lookbook | Source: Ogilvy T&A 

We view E.M as a highly potential product for further collaborations with other local brands, but our customers also need a fundamental knowledge of working with an AI model.

After Moi Dien, E.M did garner some interest among brands, but not everyone could be fully aware of how much time, money, and effort it would cost to produce a photo of E.M. 

Therefore, only progressive and adventurous travelers could be our companions on this journey. 

What are the pros and cons a virtual/AI influencer could bring?

Giao: Working with a human influencer would imply some unpredictable problems. You have to compromise on the rules and requirements of both sides, manage schedule conflicts, and deal with celebrity image management. An AI model, on the other hand, could guarantee a more trouble-free choice – they are always available and not as demanding as their human counterparts. If there is a project that suits E.M well, we would ensure to meet most of our customer’s requests.

Source: Ogilvy T&A
Source: Ogilvy T&A

Nevertheless, AI presence could never be a complete replacement for humans. As I said, the process to make a virtual influencer is time-consuming, costly, and intricate. On top of that, the level of flexibility in the system of an AI influencer is based on how broad her database is, so learning new data now and then is a must for her.  

Considering the fact that her presence is now exclusive on social media platforms, does E.M have difficulties interacting with her audiences? 

Hien: Our human interaction and communication can perform in various forms – from verbal to non-verbal, which could never be a real advantage to a digital creation. Thus, somehow our virtual counterparts do manage to connect with us. A virtual band, “Godzilla,” made their debut in the 70s and gave a ‘virtual concert’ with virtual artists and real audiences. Both artists and audiences found a mutual language of communication through music. Hence, I think if we perceive this AI thing properly, we could establish an unpreceded human-machine relationship that we wouldn’t expect to work among our kind. 

With unique characteristics, E.M finds her ways to keep the followers engaged. She is described as a young, out-going, and humorous girl who loves fashion and spending time in coffee shops. She also leads a healthy balanced lifestyle and likes to reward herself with food and travel as pay-offs for her hard work. 

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As a creative director with a huge interest in new contemporary trends, E.M understands the drawbacks and pressures of this field, which inspires her to make an impact by raising the voice of young people struggling in this industry. 

Giao: E.M is receiving good attention. She even gets invitation messages from followers on Facebook to meet up and hang out. Clearly, people are curious about E.M, which I really appreciate as it is proof of success for our team’s effort and a motivation for us to keep up with this project. 

Are there any new plans ahead for E.M?

Giao: AI in the field of creativity is still a fledgling in Vietnam’s market, so it might take a long way for E.M to establish her image and a firm position in this industry. We plan to release some of E.M’s artworks in May to attract more followers. 

E.M is our fun experiment to study and discover a new potential market. I believe E.M is a big first step that inspires other agencies to follow. In this way, we can not only diversify the market but also offer more options to customers and provide consumers with more compelling experiences.

The advancement of E.M moves along with the market development, especially our customers. Hopefully, you could expect more content and images of E.M in the future. But for now, E.M is still E.M!

Adapted by Bich Tram