These influencers aren’t like us, yet millions of people follow them. Entirely created and programmed artificially, these virtual influencers are being used more frequently nowadays by big brands like Samsung and Calvin Klein for their unique advantages over traditional, human influencers.

The concept of a virtual influencer in online marketing isn’t new. In fact, human simulations have existed for years, dealing cards in Las Vegas, making music in the band Gorillaz and living life in The Sims. However, recent technological advancements have made artificial humans much more realistic and uncanny.

The most famous example of the virtual influencer is Lil Miquela, who debuted on Instagram in April 2016. In January, TechCrunch reported that Lil Miquela’s creators had closed a $125 million investment round led by Spark Capital. Today, Lil Miquela clocks in at 3 million Instagram followers. She recently had an advertising deal with Samsung.

In April 2019, KFC introduced a virtual version of the beloved Colonel Sanders as a subtle mock at the marketing industry’s newest trend. This virtual influencer even had his own media kit.

This new Colonel posed as the alter ego of entrepreneur Harland Sanders and took over KFC’s Instagram feed, where he showed off his aspirational lifestyle, espoused vapid words of “regrammable” advice and enjoyed all the worldly benefits that being an artificial construct has to offer.

The 4 main advantages of using virtual influencers are: 

  1. They are cost-effective: In the future, brand can own or even create their own virtual influencer, which they can use at their expense without the need of paying for costly traditional influencers.Moreover, the fact that these influencers operate entirely digitally means that less capital and manpower will be used in campaigns.
  2. They are easily controlled by brands: Affiliate marketing always contains significant risks associated with the figures the brand wants to collaborate with – whether it is reputational risk or financial risk. A virtual influencer would not make hasty statements in public, or cause any scandals that can damage the brand and the relationship.
  3. They are highly customisable: In an interconnected and globalised market as today, brands would want to appeal to as many customers as possible. Virtual influencers solve the problem of diversity and multiculturalism. Furthermore, brands can tailor the influencers according to their specific campaigns, goals and products.
  4. They are not bound by human limitations: Launching a human into space may take years but filming an advertisement in space with a virtual influencer only take hours on the computer. The erased physical limitations mean that creativity in advertising will be pushed to a new level with virtual influencers.

However, virtual influencers are still a controversial practice within the industry, particularly over concerns of loss of authenticity. As contemporary marketing increasingly dignifies people-oriented strategies, virtual influencers seem to lead companies into “a dangerous area”. The use of virtual influencers has been attributed to deceptive and misleading conduct in the industry. Customers may wonder how can they trust the message being put out there by someone who is not a human like them, hence resulting in reputational damages. 

Nevertheless, virtual influencers are still very much in the centre of the discussions about new, and perhaps even very odd, contemporary marketing mediums. While virtual influencers are becoming more common, fans have engaged less with them than with the average fashion tastemaker online, according to data from Captiv8, which connects companies to social media influencers. Unlike the age-old story of robots taking over humans, maybe in this case, the humans are having the upper hand when it comes to finding an effective influencer marketing solution.

Credit: Curated from The New York Times and Vox Media.

Mandy Do

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.