The Rise of Virtual Influencers
Table Of Contents
A New Age, A New Influencer
The social media landscape has shifted and evolved immensely over the past two decades as new apps, new trends, and new tools have rolled out for people to enjoy and step up their content creation. Of all of these changes, however, nothing has had a bigger impact on the social media landscape than influencers. Influencers have had a profound impact on the way people use social media platforms, the type of content that gets created and consumed, and the dynamics between users, brands, and the platforms themselves. But even influencers aren't safe from shifting consumer preferences!
Today, social media platforms are seeing an influx of virtual influencers that have been carefully curated to market to niche markets. With the ever-changing social media landscape (think Threads vs. Twitter and Reels vs. TikTok), brands are seeing just how valuable it is to have a brand spokesperson with unlimited flexibility in content creation, marketing, and promotion. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses what a virtual influencer is and how they have reshaped the world of social media marketing.
What are Virtual Influencers?
Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters designed to resemble real humans and who interact with audiences and brands through social media and other digital platforms. These characters may be entirely fictional and generated through artificial intelligence or motion capture, or may use licensing fees to pull inspiration from real life models as their "digital twins."
Photo Credit: Le Boudoir Numérique
Virtual influencers are created to operate as real humans; they have their own distinct personalities, backstories, and interests, and with life-like appearances and movements, these hyper-realistic personas blur the line between reality and fiction.
The global virtual influencer market is expected to be worth $530 billion within the next few years, and it isn't slowing down. Today, there are currently over 200 different active virtual influencers on social media platforms, with a large saturation found in Asia.
Photo Credit: Rolling Stone India
Advantages of Virtual Influencers
Virtual influencers have gained increasing popularity over the past five years for their ability to offer unique advantages and appeal to both consumers and brands.
One benefit of virtual influencers is that they never grow older, meaning that even as time passes, virtual influencers stay the same age and therefore never fall outside of a brand's target demographic. Because of this feature, virtual influencers have the capacity to target any generation, as their creators can program them to be 5, 100, or any age in between!
Photo Credit: VirtualHumans.org
Besides age, another benefit of virtual influencers is they are fully customizable, which allows their creators to mold and shape them to meet consumer preferences, marketing goals, and more. A further benefit of full customizability is that it allows brands to build a campaign with virtual influencers that are just as diverse as the consumer audiences they are marketing to.
Photo Credit: HubSpot
Disadvantages of Virtual Influencers
While there are numerous benefits of virtual influencers, there are also disadvantages that brands should keep in mind.
One such issue is that virtual influencers face a limited ability to interact with consumers and fans. Designed using coding and motion capture technology, virtual influencers are unable to physically show up to influencer events or respond in real time to their audience on social media. As digital characters, virtual influencers are less authentic and relatable as they cannot partake in genuine human experiences and emotions.
Photo Credit: Options
Another disadvantage for virtual influencers is that some people hold the negative perception that they are gimmicks built to manipulate and exploit audiences' trust. This opinion may also transfer over to brands that use virtual influencers in their marketing and promotional materials. With social media platforms quickly shifting away from glossy, curated content towards messy, chaotic, and more authentic content, consumers are being increasingly turned off by content they deem to be "fake." This feeling of uneasiness may be heightened further as some virtual influencers touch into the realm of the uncanny valley - a concept where hyperrealism of a non-human object shifts the emotional response humans feel towards that human-like being from positive and empathetic to uncomfortable, fearful, and even repulsed.
Photo Credit: DMEXCO
Regardless of their pros and cons, there's one thing nobody can deny about virtual influencers: their cultural impact.
First and foremost, virtual influencers challenge traditional notions of celebrity and fame. Blurring the lines between real and artificial, their existence has led to discussions about the role and importance of authenticity in modern culture. Because virtual influencers often portray idealized and digitally enhanced appearances, this contributes to shaping unrealistic beauty standards and negative feelings of identity and self-worth - particularly for women. Nevertheless, the customizability of virtual influencers also allows their creators to design the influencers to be more relatable and representative of audience diversity so harmful narratives and standards perpetuated by celebrities and real human influencers can be erased from the social media landscape. As such, virtual influencers have started to reflect what is most important to consumers: representation.
Photo Credit: VirtualHumans.org
Another area of culture where virtual influencers are making an impact is fashion and beauty. With no limits to digitally generated clothing, accessories, and makeup, influencers have a never-ending wardrobe and spectrum for creativity - and brands have a valuable opportunity to dress them. This ability to dress and look however they want sets virtual influencers up as trendsetters in fashion and style, showcasing innovative and imaginative outfits that inspire their followers to emulate them.
Photo Credit: ECONYL
Virtual Reality - in Reality!
Overall, virtual influencers have emerged as a fascinating and innovative phenomenon in the realm of social media marketing. As demonstrated in this blog, they offer numerous advantages such as longevity, creative control, and targeted niche engagement which provides brands with exciting new avenues for promotion. However, alongside the appeal of virtual influencers comes a set of distinct disadvantages - including concerns about authenticity and connection, dependence on technology, and unrealistic beauty standards.
Furthermore, the cultural impact of virtual influencers on consumers, brands, and social media marketing remains a subject of ongoing exploration. As this digital trend continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly essential for creators, brands, and audiences alike to navigate the delicate balance between the benefits virtual influencers bring and the ethical considerations they entail in shaping the future of influencer culture.
Eager To Learn More?
As social media continues to evolve, the landscape of content creation and the individuals involved in producing it have indeed transformed. One of the notable developments in this space is the emergence of virtual influencers. However, like any phenomenon, there are both pros and cons associated with virtual influencers. Do you want to learn more about influencers? Read our team's additional blogs below.
- The Art Of Vetting: How We Find The Perfect Influencers For Your Brand
- Maximizing the Impact of Influencer Marketing: Expert Insights on Strategy, Measurement, and Compliance
- Influencers Monetizing Their Daily Routine
- Top 9 New Features For Successful Pinterest Influencer Marketing
- Influencer and Celebrity Endorsements 101
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