When it comes to the world of social media and retail engagement, nothing gets more press and attention than so-called media influencers – those who make news with every Insta post and can stir controversy with a simple Tweet. The biggest names in global rankings in terms of followers are of course superstars in their own right, having managed to transform their worldwide fanbase into millions of Instagram and Twitter followers. Portuguese crack soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo leads Instagram with over 250 million followers worldwide while Former U.S. President Barack Obama is the global twitter king with over 130 million followers on the platform. If you scroll through the biggest names on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram you will see names like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and a bevy of famous singers, athletes, and movie stars. But on YouTube and TikTok, two of the hottest social media platforms, the biggest names tend to be people who were not at all famous before going on social media, with names PewDiePie, Whindersson Nunes, Charli D’Amelio, Spencer X, and Lu. Although all of these names are social media heavyweights, none of them are as unique as the Brazilian influencer Lu.
With over 25 million followers across social media channels, she is by far the world’s most-followed virtual influencer. That’s right, Lu is 100% digital.
Born in 2003 – the brainchild of Frederico Trajano, now the CEO of Magazine Luiza, one of the largest retailers in Brazil – Lu is a powerful voice across Brazil and offers a glimpse into the social influencer landscape of tomorrow. She has emerged not simply a mascot or a fun, quirky 3D sideshow – Lu is, in a very literal sense, the face of Magazine Luiza, or Magalu as it is commonly known in Brazil. She is at once expert recommender of emerging trends and hot new brands, reviewer of gadgets, guide to the company’s vast portfolio of online and digital tools and platforms, as well as the company’s senior ambassador, unabashedly taking on a panoply of issues central to Magalu’s core values.
Case in point: last year, in the early days of the pandemic, Lu came out with a series of YouTube videos and posts about the dangers of fake news, and where one should turn if they were concerned about the quality of the information they were receiving about the virus. Lu has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, racial equity, environmental protection, and a host of other progressive social issue that are core to Magalu’s value set. The end result is that, although Brazilians are perfectly aware that Lu is not a real person, she has become one of the most beloved and trusted voices in the Brazilian media land-scape, breaking through the daily cacophony of noise produced by news outlets and social media influencers.
The success of Lu has inspired other Brazilian brands to experiment with their own avatars, and although some have gained a bit of traction, none have come close to replicating the success of Lu – likely a function of Magalu having dedicated an entire team of marketers and technologists to supporting her – everything from new hairdos to her famous greeting “Oiiii gente” (which translates to “Heyyyy guys”) is carefully managed down to the smallest detail. Unlike Lil Miquela Sousa, the Brazilian model and singer avatar living in Los Angeles that sparked controversy during the US 2020 elections when she was forced to admit that she is in fact not a real person, Lu’s success doesn’t stem from her having duped millions of people into thinking she was something than an avatar. In fact, Brazilians it would seem, are in on the joke, and actively engaging with community blogs and chat rooms where various elements of Lu’s backstories are de-bated and discussed.
If all of this seems a bit too far out for you to comprehend, you are not alone; Magalu’s Lu is a glimpse into the future of media influencers. And that Lu is a product of Magalu is just another proof point that some of the most world’s innovative ideas that intersect at the crossroads of technology, social advocacy, and retail are coming from Brazil.
Columnist for CNN, television producer & political advisor