VIRTUAL Influencers?

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) are rapidly growing trends that are not predicted to slow down anytime soon! These computer-generated, simulated experiences have the ability to induce all human senses and heighten life or lifelike environments. With advancements, creators are able to create spaces and characters that are similar to the real world. Virtual reality was a popular component of video games to start, but now it has been incorporated into a myriad of other industries such as education, healthcare, sports, etc. As VR and AR technology becomes more versatile, the creation and use of VR influencers has become mainstream and will become more prevalent on social media platforms.

Influencer marketing is no longer just limited to humans! Nowadays we have animals and digitally created characters that are influencers, which begs the question, do influencers even need to be human and do they need to exist in real life? Especially during a time when interacting safely with other humans is risky, the need for digital spokespeople has never been more in demand. Virtual influencers, in the long term, are made to efficiently help humans. They are 100% controllable, can appear to be in multiple places at once, and don’t age or die without our control. According to Business Insider Intelligence, brands are expected to spend as much as $15 billion annually on influencer marketing by 2022. VR and AR industries will amount to roughly $30 billion by the end of 2020. Imagine how much more can be done with virtual influencers. The mix of these personalities living in both the physical and digital world creates an infinite potential for more content and a nearly unlimited creative scope.

A prime example of a well-known VR influencer is Miquela Sosa. She, primarily known as Lil Miquela, is a 19-year-old Brazilian-American model and musician with millions of followers on Instagram. At a glance, Miquela can easily be mistaken for a living, breathing person. She captures herself hanging out with real-life artists and influencers, eating at trendy restaurants, and expressing thoughts that make it seem as though she has the grasp of human senses and emotions. The fascinating thing is you almost have to remind yourself that she’s computer-generated! Although this personality is fictional, that fact has not made being an influencer any less relatable to their audience, Gen Z-ers. The creators of VR influencers can deliver relatable content and make the experience seem freakishly real.

According to OnBuy, a UK online marketplace, Lil Miquela is estimated to make roughly $11.7 million for her creators this year. As the pandemic has affected major brand product launches and sponsored traveling, the roles that human influencers would normally have are being occupied by digital characters. Even if it wasn’t for the pandemic, there are other benefits to hiring or even creating a virtual influencer! For starters, because they aren’t human, breaks aren’t needed. This ultimately lowers the cost of hiring and more content can be pushed out faster. Additionally, they wouldn’t be as much of a PR liability as real influencers because what is conveyed can be constructed much more carefully. Most importantly, VR influencing is still relatively new. Having a digital spokesperson would be unusual, but incredibly intriguing and can bring major attention to your brand. You might be wondering though, isn’t authentic engagement the sole purpose of influencer marketing? How is an audience supposed to trust this content if it isn’t even advocated by a real human? Being able to cater to an audience’s emotions is neat, but it takes away a genuine aspect that can quickly be perceived as untrustworthy advertising. However, this is already debatable with how much content can be edited, filtered, and posed. Most people still want to be entertained on social media, so virtual or not, they follow influencers that educate and inspire them. A virtual influencer also has the benefit of no limitations to the real world.

All-in-all, there is a level of risk when it comes to brands finding real people or virtual characters to promote their products or services. Though there is risk involved, being able to connect and engage with your audience is the primary goal. It just goes to show that it all depends on what you want your brand to represent and who your audience is!

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