The Rise of Virtual Influencers: A New Era in Marketing?

April 11, 2023

AI continues to blur the line between reality and virtuality, and as we witness major technological changes before our eyes, we’re met with another reality-bending topic to wrap our heads around: virtual influencers. 

What is a virtual influencer?

A virtual influencer is a computer-generated character that exists and is consumed entirely on digital platforms. What’s truly fascinating – or perhaps even scary – is that these characters are often purposely made to look and act like a real person. 

Brands and individuals sit behind each of these virtual influencers, deciding how they look, dress, and behave. They also control their interests, who they hang out with, who they collaborate with, and where they go. 

Are virtual influencers influencing people?

Data suggests they are. In a survey by the Influencer Marketing Factory, 58% of respondents followed at least one virtual influencer and 35% said they had purchased a product promoted by a virtual influencer. 

Some of the biggest virtual influencers have way over a million followers. Lu Do Magalu, for instance, has more than 6 million Instagram followers. And their reach has not gone unnoticed; brands like Balenciaga, Prada and Tesla have made use of virtual influencers in their marketing, showing that their impact is attractive to even some of the biggest brands.  

So should we just forget about human influencers? Well, like all things, there are nuances.

Virtual influencers vs. human influencers

One of the differences between the two is their level of perfection. Although human influencers are often accused of portraying an overly perfect image of themselves, they’re not actually perfect. Like all people, influencers are prone to flaws and poor decisions that can harm their public image. This isn’t the case with virtual influencers – they don’t even exist in real life. 

But as the phrase goes, “all publicity is good publicity.” We’ve seen some of the world’s most influential people go through controversies and come out of them with even more influence. People don’t always want perfection – they want authenticity and transparency; they want to relate to our favourite influencers and believe in their humanity. Ultimately, it’s up to brands to decide if virtual or human influencers work best for them. 

Working with virtual influencers

When you collaborate with a human influencer, it’s likely they’ll want a say in the process of content creation. But with a virtual influencer, you can expect more control over projects from conception to completion.

That being said, when partnering with a virtual influencer, you’re often working with an anonymous person who’ll offer little control over their influencer’s persona. It might be easy to hand over some content for the virtual influencer to release, but it’s not as easy to get an impression of who you’re working with. 

We suggest you do your research before partnering with a virtual influencer and choose one that’s well-established to minimise risks. 

What do virtual influencers mean to digital marketing?

One thing we haven’t discussed is how pretty much anyone with the right software skills can create a virtual influencer. Brands can thus eliminate the risk of leaving their marketing in the hands of others and instead create virtual influencers specifically tailored to their brand and audience. 

The possibilities with virtual influencers are endless. Use AI to generate content, customise the virtual influencer to look as desired, and set time stamps for different posts. You can pretty much automate all processes and make your influencer marketing as efficient as possible.  

Both traditional and virtual influencers have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’ll be interesting to see what the future has in store for both of them. Will brands continue to collaborate with virtual influencers, or will we see more take matters into their own hands?