Have you ever heard of Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela? She is a Brazilian-American virtual influencer and has acquired 3 million followers. However, she is not your regular social media influencer: she is a virtual influencer.
With +1 billion social media users worldwide, brands are seeking innovative ways to differentiate themselves and connect with audiences on these growing social platforms, and some of these brands found a new way to realize this by collaborating with virtual influencers. What some may consider the next wave of influencer marketing, brands are now leveraging these virtual influencers as their very own brand ambassadors. Created by third parties for the use of brands, these AI-generated characters embody the realistic features, personalities, thoughts and feelings of humans. However, they are carefully curated and fully controlled, from their physical appearance to their content.
WHAT ARE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?
By definition, virtual influencers or CGI influencers as they can also be called, are fictional computer generated ‘people’ who seem to behave just like us. They are designed by artists, graphic designers, animators, and digital creators.
These characters are leveraged to expose social media followers to brands in a way that is well controlled and clear for brands in terms of deliverables to expect. These modern-day influencers have seen explosive growth and followings in the last few years. The popularity surrounding these virtual influencers is partially due to the mystery of the creators. Some accounts disclose whether they’re CGI, while others do not hint on that at all, leaving followers playing a guessing game whether they’re part-shot or part-CGI. According to social media consultancy firm Fullscreen, virtual influencers seem so real that 42% of millennials and Gen-Zers have followed an influencer on Instagram without realizing that he or she is computer-generated.
HOW DO VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS WORK?
The creators of these virtual influencers choose the way they look, dress and act. They also decide what their backstories are, who they hang out with, date, and collaborate with. Most of these campaigns are based on social media platforms, of which Instagram is the largest market for virtual influencers.
Listed are three ways your brand can work with virtual influencers:
Brands can recruit a virtual influencer to promote a product or service, or appear on their feed, such as a partnered post. This type of collaboration is an accessible way for brands to test how their audience interacts with virtual content.
Brands can coordinate ongoing partnerships with virtual influencers. “Signing” a virtual influencer could be part of an extended PR strategy. Working together with a virtual influencer for a longer period of time could lead to a brand benefitting from their followers getting familiar with the influencer, and enjoy consistent engagement from those drawn in by the campaign.
Another way brands are involved with virtual influencers is to create their own, who are used as a brand ambassador or spokesperson for the brand. This choice allows for complete ownership and total control over the virtual influencer’s background story, (brand) personality, and physical appearance. Creating an own virtual influencer could give your brand the power to run a far-reaching PR campaign and increase a brand image that fits their target audience.
In 2018 Yoox, a Net-a-Porter brand, introduced Daisy, a virtual styling assistant that supports visitors with clothes before they decide to buy them. Nowadays, Daisy is a virtual influencer on Yoox’s Instagram.
Not only Yoox, but also Puma created a virtual character. In 2020, the virtual character Maya was created for the promotion of their new gear. This happened as a result of Puma facing the challenge to create a marketing campaign that would promote their “Future Rider” shoe to the audience in South East Asia. Puma wanted to choose a single person to represent the diversity of the overall region, which led to an impossible search for the perfect match. Maya is the result of combining the unique characteristics of each region into one character to solve the challenge of fragmentation.
OUR TOP 3 VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS AND BRAND COLLABORATIONS
Lil Miquela is one of the first so-called virtual influencers to enter the Instagram space in 2016, and paved the way for many virtual influencers to follow. She was created by a startup called Brud, which started out as an experimental CGI project. However, to a big surprise, she quickly grew a following and soon booked many collaborations and endorsements as though she was real. Lil Miquela is a musician, social activist and model, and has so far worked with high-end fashion brands like Dior, Prada, and Calvin Klein.
She has also collaborated with Samsung, and has been part of Samsung’s 2019 #teamgalaxy campaign, where she teamed up with real-life supermodel Bella Hadid for a Calvin Klein advert and has even been listed within The Times’ ‘Most Influential People on the Internet’ in 2018.
2. Imma – 337k followers
Model and virtual fashion influencer, Imma was ‘brought to life’ by Tokyo-based CG company Modeling Cafe. Imma has the prestigious title of being Japan’s first virtual model and made her first appearance in 2018. The Japan Economics Entertainment even has picked her as a “New 100 Talent to Watch”. Since then, this virtual girl with the distinctive pink bob, has caused a big stir on Instagram. In the 2+ years that she has been in the business she has gained more than 300k followers on Instagram. In her bio, she describes herself as a virtual girl interested in Japanese culture, film and art. So far, Imma has collaborated with brands such as Burberry, Magnum China, Adidas Tokyo, and IKEA Japan.
3. Shudu – 218k followers
Lastly, Shudu differs from Lil Miquala and Imma as she is the first world’s virtual supermodel. Shudu is the creation of fashion photographer Cameron James Wilson, which started as an art project in 2018. Shudu became famous after featuring on the feed of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty brand, and her joining the Balmain family as one of their latest models. Besides, in 2020, Shudu also collaborated with Samsung #withgalaxy campaign
WHAT DOES THE SUCCESS OF VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS MEAN FOR BRANDS?
Why should brands look at integrating virtual influencers into their experiences versus real-life brand ambassadors?
Here are six reasons:
1. Integrate products more seamlessly
2. Create, invent and imagine
3. Full control, no risk of scandals
4. Unique and innovative.
5. Higher engagement than real influencers
6. The uncertainty Covid brought into the world is likely to advance interest in digital brand collaborators
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS AND WHO IS ENGAGING WITH THEM?
The influencer market is a billion-dollar industry, and according to reporter Sam Bradley of The Drum, Influencer marketing spend is expected to rise to $15 billion by 2022, compared to $8 billion in 2019.
Nowadays, virtual influencers are co-living with “traditional” social media influencers. The virtual influencer industry is growing, yet still infantile. However, creating virtual influencers could be a fruitful endeavor: a 2020 virtual influencer study from HypeAuditor stated that “virtual influencers have almost 3x the engagement rate of real influencers.”
HypeAuditor also disclosed, in a 2019 virtual influencer study, that a “real influencer should make almost 4x more Instagram posts to gain the same number of followers as the virtual influencer.” The Digital Influencer market is set to reach $2 billion in the next two years, according to CBS, so there is a very lucrative niche in this highly competitive market.
When looking at the volume of Instagram followers across age-groups, the concept of a robot as a statement figure is looking the most lucrative for Generation Z (born in 1997 – 2012). The majority of virtual influencer followers are in the U.S., and roughly 45% of virtual influencers’ audiences are women ages 18 to 34.
As of now, Influencer marketing continues to be a highly relevant marketing channel for most brands and virtual influencers present a new and unique way to reach a certain type of audience on Instagram among other social media platforms.
Do you want to learn more about Influencer marketing and how to best utilise it to get optimal results for your business? Contact us now or either consult our Influencer Marketing page.