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We are no stranger to influencer marketing. In a world that is becoming increasingly digitized, the way brands and marketers advertise is also evolving. In the past several years, a new wave of online personalities – virtual influencers – has been surfacing on social media platforms such as Instagram. 

Business Insider Intelligence suggested the global influencer marketing industry could rise to $15 billion by 2022. Besides, International Data Corporation (IDC) also predicted that the global market spends on artificial intelligence (AI) is to hit $110 billion by 2024. Therefore, by combining these two disciplines, we can see great potential in using virtual influencers.

What are virtual influencers?

Generally, influencers are people who have authority, influence and respect in specific areas or niches. They can sway the purchasing decisions of their audience, and have the ability to influence the audience in taking the desired action. Virtual influencers, also called CGI influencers, are the same. But, with one key difference – they are fictional people created using AI.

These fictional people possess realistic human characteristics, features and personalities. They are built using AI, applied psychology and tons of market research on the target audience. This is to create a character that can truly represent the brand’s values. At the same time, the character has to appeal to the right target audience, fit into their likes and behaviours.

Credit: Miquela Instagram

The most famous example of virtual influencers is none other than Miquela. She debuted in April 2016 and she currently has over 2.7 million followers on Instagram. Several luxury fashion brands have been using her for their product endorsements.

Why should we look at virtual influencers?
1. Safeguard the brand’s interest

‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’ have been the watchword in the influencer marketing industry. To bring transparency to their audience, influencers have been using hashtags like #sponsored, #ad and #sp as signposts for paid content. While we agree that human influencers can be more ‘real’ and transparent in their deliveries, their real-life acts can undo the branding.

For example, lifestyle Youtuber Olivia Jade Giannulli was enjoying a lucrative career collaborating with big brands like Amazon, Sephora and Marc Jacob Beauty before she was embroiled in a college admissions bribery scandal. Sponsorship deals dwindled after news about the scandal broke out. Brands immediately dropped all collaborations with her to protect their brand images. 

There is always a PR liability when it comes to engaging a human influencer. However, with the use of virtual influencers, you can get a better sense of behavioural expectations from them. In simpler terms, the use of human influencers may involve a risk of hurting your brand image due to some scandals. But, virtual influencers will not go south with their actions since you can have total control over them. This reduces the risks of facing PR crises.

2. Tailored persona

Beyond controlling their actions, you can also tailor the personalities and characters of virtual influencers to match your brand image. You have full control over how you want them to be.

This means that you can create the ideal ambassador for your brand and make it a perfect fit to promote your products. Whilst human influencers often have their distinct style in their deliveries which may cause unpleasant conversations, virtual influencers allow complete control over the presentation of the brand and product.

Additionally, you can model the appearance and identities according to industry-specific circumstances. Some examples as follows:

Alex Hunter, a football athlete created by EA Sports.

Credit: Alex Hunter Twitter

Xin Xiaowei, a news anchor created by Xinhua News along with Sugou.

Xin Xiaowei, virtual news anchor

Credit: Xinhua News

Margot, Shudu and Zhi, digital models created by French luxury fashion house Balmain.

Credit: Balmain

Most importantly, the 2019 report done by HypeAuditor showed that on average, virtual influencers have 3X the engagement rate than human influencers. This means that using virtual influencers does not keep them away from having an engaged fanbase.

3. 24/7 Availability

Virtual influencers are not humans, so they will be there at all times. For instance, Xinhua News can cover breaking news 24/7 by using Xin Xiaowei.

Also, it requires a great deal of pre-planning when brands use human influencers who have busy schedules. With virtual influencers, there is no need to bound yourselves to other people’s schedules. With virtual influencers, they can help you to post anytime and on time even if you need to work around the clock to publish content.

Furthermore, virtual influencers are more efficient as they do not have to do 100 takes like humans. They can be edited easily using computers whilst human influencers often need to have their appearances ready for the cameras. They can also be ‘anywhere’. Brands will not need to incur heavy costs in photoshoots or pay for their expenses, especially in the event of engagements that require them to travel. There will be no need to pay for airfare or hotels as their visuals can be easily created. 

This can be advantageous in the current pandemic period where we have to adhere to travel restrictions and social distancing rules. For instance, Paraiso Miami Beach engaged virtual models from The Diigitals Agency for a virtual runway show.

virtual runway show

Credit: Paraiso Miami Beach Instagram

4. Engage a young target audience

Last but not least, the younger audience is highly receptive to fictional human beings with compelling stories. According to HypeAuditor’s 2019 report, virtual influencers’ main audience is women between the age of 18 to 24.

Virtual influencers are highly relatable to the younger audience as they are built based on the audience’s preferences and interests. The research conducted by UK’s Mindshare Futures also revealed that 32% of millennials (ages between 18 to 34) do follow social profiles that they know are not real

Thus, if you are trying to reach out to a younger audience, why not consider the use of virtual influencers? As virtual influencers are still not widely used, it stirs conversations and draws attention to your brand. 

These virtual influencers have been adding an innovative cool factor to the brands, from heritage to streetwear, that engages them for social or campaign creative.

Source: Daymon Bruck, CCO and partner at The O Group

Presently, most brands are engaging virtual influencers to showcase their cool factor. As such, virtual influencers may be an approach for your brand to be perceived as innovative and cool.

Virtual influencers are the future

It is the new age of influencer marketing now as the industry becomes more diversified. Brands and marketers will have to focus on searching for the right influencer who can truly embody the brand values. 

If you are looking for a perfect ambassador, virtual influencers can guarantee that. At groundup.ai, we will help you to better understand your target audience and build an influencer who can perfectly represent your brand. 

Get in touch with us to find out more and request a call from us today!

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