The Birth, The Pull & The Rise Of Virtual Influencers...

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Virtual Influencers

Be it Fenty's Shudu Gram or Prada's Candy, virtual influencers are catching up fast with their human counterparts. Ankit Agarwal of Do Your Thng speaks about the rise of virtual influencers and what their future looks like, as brands increase spends on this front.

According to Wikipedia, a virtual influencer can be a virtual persona or model. It is a computer-generated fictional character that can be used for marketing, "but most frequently for social media marketing, in lieu of human influencers."

Virtual influencers prove that sometimes the real deal is not better.

Captivating consumers through their digital and narrative-led personas, they can generate 3 times the engagement of a human influencer, according to HypeAuditor.

A brainchild of artists and tech companies, virtual influencers are fictitious characters with partially or wholly artificial appearances. Their forms can differ, be more human-like Lil Miquela, who was created by Brud, a transmedia studio, or more animalistic. But all of them come to life through storytelling.

The Birth Of Virtual Influencers

The first brands to embrace virtual influencers as a trend were luxury fashion brands. In 2018, Balmain used virtual models - Margot, Shudu, and Zhi - for its fashion army. Fenty Beauty campaigned with Shudu Gram, who now has 231k followers. Lil Miquela, a perpetual 19-year-old with 3 million followers, took over Prada’s Instagram for Milan Fashion Week.

After that, the floodgates opened. Other brands and businesses quickly followed suit. KFC introduced the CGI model, Colonel Sanders. Nike, Samsung, and Calvin Klein partnered with Lil Miquela. Nissin, the instant ramen noodle brand, collaborated with Kizuna AI, a virtual YouTuber.

The World Health Organisation collaborated with Knox Frost, a 21-year-old AI, to spread awareness of COVID. India created its first virtual influencer, Nila. Puma launched Maya to advertise their Future Rider sneaker line in Southeast Asia.

The Pull Of Virtual Influencers

Gartner predicts that by the time 2025 rolls around, 30% of influencer marketing budgets will be allocated to virtual influencers. Once marketers wrap their heads around the concept of computer-generated imagery (or rather, influencers), the draw is crystal clear.

Also Read: How to merge influencer marketing & remarketing techniques for maximum conversions

Novelty is the obvious pull, but creativity is not far behind

There are limits to how brands can collaborate with human influencers because they are hesitant to give over the reins of creativity to a third party. Virtual influencers break down creative borders because the entire campaign, from concept to shoot, is digital, making anything achievable. A case in point is a virtual influencer performing a concert in 7 different virtual venues simultaneously. Kai, a digital celebrity and creator on Roblox, the popular online game platform, did exactly that.

The holy grail of digital marketing, a heightened level of brand safety

From creative to copy, a brand can maintain authority over everything because each aspect of virtual influencers is intentionally produced. Moreover, unlike their real counterparts, virtual influencers can’t get embroiled in PR scandals or consumer backlashes. 

Since their personalities and stories are completely professional, they also don’t face challenges like getting #cancelled. It guarantees marketers absolute control over messaging, leading to greater consistency and lower risk. 

Cost-effective campaigns with adaptable content

A pertinent reason virtual influencers are rising in trend is the human need for time and physical space. Influencers who need to eat, breathe, and sleep are captives of their schedules and bodies. Artificial influencers are not, which makes them more cost-effective, particularly when compared with mega-influencers. 

Take, for instance, a tourism or hospitality brand. A campaign with a well-known travel creator means incurring additional costs like hosting. Such expenses don’t materialise with virtual influencers. 

Another reason for the surge of virtual influencers is content adaptability. Because they are entirely fictional, a brand can fit the influencer’s story into their own narrative like a glove. The resulting partnership is natural and more trustworthy, ringing in quantifiable results. While the same effect is unreservedly possible with real creators, it necessitates exhaustive and data-driven influencer discovery. 

The rise of virtual influencers

In the last few years, virtual influencers have tripled in size. It’s a metaverse effect because these digital humans are inherently suited to being the first inhabitants of it. As investment and interest in the metaverse intensify, virtual influencers will go from being a trend to becoming a staple. 

Brands are already creating these trendsetting avatars in-house. An example is Candy, Prada’s computer-generated muse. Introduced in their ReThink Reality campaign, the brand uses her to promote an eponymous fragrance collection and build digital interactions and social experiences with its younger demographic. 

The metaverse is not only propelling the creation of new virtual influencers, but also a change in existing ones. Take, for instance, Lil Miquela, arguably one of the most well-known CGI avatars. Her creators are now considering using blockchain to make her more community-driven.

Blurring the lines between virtual and reality

The lure and power of virtual influencers are only set to increase because their potential is limitless. Through them, brands can genuinely spark engaged conversations and build invested relationships with their customers. Essentially, these virtual humans blur the lines between the digital and real-world, something that’s never happened before, opening up a whole new marketing ballgame. 

The article is penned by Ankit Agarwal, Founder & CEO, Do Your Thng.

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