Madeleine Mak, a client development executive for APAC at GroupM's Inca, predicts that the possible categories and sizes of virtual influencers will diversify as CGI technology becomes more affordable and influencer marketing budgets increase.
A new generation of Social media influencers
"Lil Miquela," a South California-based American-Brazilian influencer, uploaded her first Instagram photos in April 2016. In just a few years, Lil Miquela had garnered well over two million Instagram followers. Lil Miquela, like many other social media influencers, shows the fans glimpses of her life, such as photos of her post-workout smoothie or photographs of her hanging out with pals. Lil Miquela is not actually a real person. Every aspect of Lil Miquela’s virtual world is created and carefully crafted, pixel by pixel, by designers.
Brud, an LA-based firm, created her as a CGI (Computer Generated Image) invention. Brud has had tremendous success, receiving $19.5 million in Series B fundraising recently, bringing their current valuation to $125 million. Some very high-profile investors, such as Sequoia Capital, have expressed interest in the company. This alone implies that virtual influencer marketing has a bright future. Virtual influencers, defined as AI-generated digital personas, have been demonstrated to be three times more engaging than human influencers.
The fashion industry was the first to adopt the idea of virtual influencers. Balmain, a French luxury fashion label, used three virtual models as part of its 'Balmain Army' for its fall 2018 show. Puma appointed virtual influencer Maya as its South East Asia brand ambassador earlier this year. Brands from a variety of industries are increasingly following suit. In 2019, the prominent fast-food restaurant KFC, for example, produced a virtual Colonel Sanders who interacted with other well-known virtual influencers on social media. KFC built a CGI depiction of Colonel Sanders, the company's founder. Sanders' virtual avatar depicts him as a cool young man with KFC-related catchphrases tattooed across his abs. Colonel Sanders, the CGI version, was only a passing fad. For only a few weeks, he was featured on KFC's official Instagram page. He did, however, prove to be highly popular among his fans. After the CGI Colonel Sanders marketing campaign finished, KFC's social media participation dropped, according to the company. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently teamed up with Knox Frost, a health and wellness virtual influencer, to promote social distancing measures in the wake of the global Covid epidemic.
Why brands should use virtual influencers?
As a result, virtual influencers clearly represent a new, mostly uncharted realm of communication that now has no obvious limits. Virtual influencers, with their distinct and consistent traits, apart from the novelty, will bring numerous benefits to brands.
Unlike real influencers, the makers of virtual influencers control and consciously manufacture every component of their originality and a duplicate. In an industry where influencer PR disasters and unprofessionalism are common, this ensures a higher level of brand protection. Using virtual influencers, on the other hand, could be cost-effective. This is especially true for firms in the tourist and hospitality industries, where influencer efforts normally come at a higher cost. Because of the malleability of virtual Influencers' content, luxury and fashion brands appear to be particularly drawn to them.
The data shows that digital influencers have a substantially greater interaction rate and can also engage with Gen. Z, who are otherwise difficult to reach. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered people's perceptions of space and travel in recent months. It's made feasible by virtual influencers. Virtual influencers make it possible can solve this obstacle, as was the case with Noonoouri's participation in London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2021, which was fully online. When hiring a real influencer, you must provide clothing, manage logistics, pay for transportation and lodging, whereas with virtual influencers, you simply pay a fee to the company that has the rights, lowering the overall cost of the marketing campaign.
The Asian market (especially the Chinese one) appears to be very suitable for traditional advertising campaigns that employ virtual influencers. The eastern population appears to be less bothered by sponsored content than its western counterpart. Furthermore, Chinese companies, unable to invest in advertisements on the main social media, are more likely to rely on influencer marketing.
Virtual influencers are a growing and mostly untapped possibility for companies and marketers to interact and stir up discourse among digital audiences in new and unique ways. Clearly, virtual influencers are not just a trend.