The Virtual Influencer Phenomenon And What It Means For Marketing

Many people born in the 90s remember when the electro-pop band ‘The Gorillaz” came out. The group was presented to the public as a cast of animated characters that performed the music. Even though the band leader was the well known Blur frontman Damon Albarn, the emphasis was put on the animated band, they were the public face of the group.


Fast forward a few decades and people are more worried than ever about the prospect of AI technologies replacing humans. This has become apparent in a recent report that claims that even Instagram influencers will have to watch out for increasing popularity of Virtual Influencers creeping into their space.


Large brands such as KFC, Bed Bath And Beyond, and Louis Vuitton have all started to use Virtual Influencers in their campaign and many more companies will be following.

What is A Virtual Influencer?


The term Virtual Influencer refers to CGI characters created by people and corporations, often with AI elements, that act as the face for branding or marketing campaigns. In places where individuals would have expected to see humans representing a company or a product AI-based CGI avatars are beginning to take the stage.


“A Virtual Influencer can be thought of as a digital person, with a history, personality, background, and style that is created for the sole purpose of advertising a brand, product, or service,” writes Jane Fundon, a marketer at Academicbrits and Phdkingdom.


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Perhaps the most well known Virtual Influencer is Lil Miquela who has nearly 2 million followers on Instagram. In cyberspace, Lil Miquela is a 19-year-old half Spanish and half Brazilian girl who enjoys fashion and making music. In 2019 she teamed up with Samsung as part of their Galaxy advertising campaign. Lil Miquela is the first, and still most popular, virtual influencer around.

Why Use Virtual Influencers?


VIs are programmed and under the complete control of the owning company. Many times in the past corporations have contracted celebrities or sports stars to be the face of their marketing campaign only to have them say or do something that goes against the image the company is trying to put forward. Famous examples are Jared Fogel and Tiger Woods.


By having complete control companies feel they can better manage the risk associated with mass-scale advertising campaigns.

VIs are also flexible creations, they can be changed and modeled as needed to suit the current advertising culture. They are also independent of time, space, and commitments meaning it only requires a small team to put together a specific ad, photo, or video featuring their Virtual Influencer, whereas their human counterparts are not as readily available.


Imagine a celebrity, sports star, or pop music icon who has been contracted to represent a brand or product. To have them participate in a commercial, photoshoot, or video session it requires a great deal of foreplanning. These are busy people who have busy schedules. With VIs there is no need to be beholden to the schedules of others. They are ready to go at any time and any place.


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What Do Virtual Influencers Tell Us?


The rise of Virtual Influencers as a legitimate marketing tool marks a major shift in people’s attitudes towards advertising. “A recent poll showed that 54% of UK residents found virtual entities appealing on some level. The idea of having a digitized human represent products and services to the general public is not something that would have been well received even just a few years ago,” writes Gene French, a business writer at Originwritings and Nextcoursework. Virtual Influencers tell us that attitudes are shifting and that marketing strategies are evolving.


There is growing concern that the acceptance of Virtual Influencers and their rise in popularity is a symptom of a society that is growing up in cyberspace just as much as they are growing up in meat space. There is also the issue of perpetuating even further an idea of body image that is unattainable. Photos of models are often airbrushed and edited before they are made available to the public. With Virtual Influencers, they can be molded to fit any appearance the creator desires. Many have concerns about the long-lasting effects of this on the minds of the young generation.

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