Social media has truly changed the way brands can engage audiences. Today, brands are now partnering with influencers to push their products and services. These internet celebrities can be famous for all sorts of reasons. Some gained fame due to their viral videos or lavish lifestyles. Others are just “famous for being famous.” But no matter what their backgrounds are, many of them now have millions of followers.
What’s interesting is that these influencers can truly affect how their fans think and act. Kylie Jenner, who became famous mainly for being one of the Kardashian sisters, has gained so much clout with her base that a single tweet from her questioning Snapchat’s relevance caused its parent company’s stock value to drop by $1.3 billion. This happened back in 2018 and, even a year after the event, Snap’s stock prices haven’t quite recovered yet.
Marketers are now looking to tap into such persuasive power that they’re allocating more of their budgets for influencer marketing. The space is expected to become a $10 billion market by 2022.
Innovation in the space isn’t lagging either. Agencies are now creating their own virtual influencers and they look poised to give human influencers a run for their money. Virtual influencers are made by computer-generated imagery (CGI) and can made to portray lifestyles similar to that of their human counterparts.
Pioneering efforts are showing success in people engagement. Lil Miquela is currently arguably the most popular virtual influencer with over 1.6 million followers on her Instagram account. Her reach has become expansive enough that top brands like Samsung and Calvin Klein have tapped her to be part of their ad campaigns. Other virtual influencers like Zoe Dvir, Imma, and Shudu have also already gained tens of thousands of followers each.
Image Source: Lil Miquela
With real people giving virtual influencers attention, the technology looks primed to be the next big thing that marketers can use to promote their brands online. Here are three ways virtual influencers can help supercharge brands.
Image and Messaging Consistency
Finding the right influencer can be a game-changer for brands. The Rock and Under Armour’s partnership has worked so well due to the perfect match of The Rock’s image with the brand’s customer base.
However, tapping human influencers can be quite tricky. On one hand, the brand can leverage the person’s reach. On the other, people are fallible. Humans are always a bad decision or a checkered past away from becoming a public relations nightmare for a brand.
There is a growing list of internet celebrities that have been subject to controversy. Vlogger Logan Paul, for example, was heavily criticized after filming a dead body while in Japan. Top YouTuber PewDiePie also drew public backlash after making racist comments. These are obviously behaviors that most brands would not want to be associated with.
With virtual influencers, brands can effectively control what their influencers say and do and what situations they are depicted in. They won’t break character or go off-script. They can keep to the brand’s story and stay on-message. This consistency is helpful in promoting brand recognition and building trust and loyalty with audiences.
Not all popular and hugely-followed personality can be an influencer for a brand especially when there’s a disconnect between the campaign’s goals and the influencer’s personality. Marketers also must consider how well influencers resonate with their target demographics.
This becomes less of a concern through virtual influencers since they can be made to be relatable. Not only can their personalities be crafted to echo the sentiments and aspirations of their audience, they can also be made part of more complex narratives designed to strike a chord with their audiences. Last year, Lil Miquela was staged to have a feud with fellow virtual influencer Bermuda. Audiences’ curiosities were piqued by the stunt that the posts of both virtual influencers during the “feud” drew much attention and comments from followers.
Virtual influencers can also be made to promote inclusion and diversity. The creators of Lil Miquela have also featured her taking on social issues such as showing support for the Black Lives Matter protests and LGBTQ+ causes. These are issues that younger audiences can relate to.
Having an influencer that can capably engage an audience can further boost a brand’s profile. Captive audiences are more likely to heed calls to action.
Value for Ad Spend
Perhaps one of the more attractive advantages of using virtual influencers is their relative affordability compared to human influencers.
Real-life influencers can command hundreds of thousands of dollars for a simple mention in a tweet or a placement in an Instagram post. However, product placements especially for visual platforms often also required holding staged shoots and potentially costly productions. These can easily chew into a marketer’s budget.
In contrast, virtual influencer posts are made digitally. Influencers can be situated anywhere in the world and be placed in thrilling situations and exotic locations without needing actual real-world travel or production to pull off. Marketers would be able to spend less, take on minimal risk, and still get a stunning and engaging visual to use in their campaigns.
Influencers can also bring significant returns of investment (ROI). Some campaigns have shown to have brought as much as 11 times ROI from their influencer marketing spending.
Room for Progress
What’s exciting about all of these is that the technology is still in its relative infancy. There is plenty of room for further development.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the future of virtual influencers. CGI combined AI can deliver more realistic and human-like renderings. AI could also help create virtual influencers with richer personalities. While the textual content for today’s virtual influencers are still managed by human writers, AI can soon be used to automatically generate content. Chatbot technology could even allow virtual influencers to freely interact with their followers.
Such improvements, combined with consumers’ acceptance of these virtual personas, opens up a whole new dimension for brands to build their online presence. But even now, with technology where it’s at, marketers could already start benefiting from using virtual influencers to promote their brands. In a very competitive business landscape, having such capable means of delivering messages and engaging audiences could very well give brands that definitive edge over others.
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