Sometimes called “CGI influencers,” virtual influencers are fictional characters designed to look and act like humans on social media. Created by engineers, graphic artists, and programmers, these virtual celebrities are sometimes powered by semi-autonomous artificial intelligence.
Virtual influencers still provide many of the benefits of human influencers, like showcasing products and services, answering questions, simulating experiences, and displaying emotions — albeit by design. But should you use virtual influencers in your campaigns?
Here are some things to consider:
1. Virtual influencers are still new
With more than 200 CGI influencers online, the novelty of content being presented by non-humans is still in its infancy. Many consumers aren’t even aware that high-tech personas exist.
But for brands whose reach has included the introduction of virtual characters on social media, their efforts appear to have paid off. Lu do Magalu, for example, is one of the most followed virtual influencers in the world, with tens of millions of fans across various social platforms. Born on YouTube in 2009 to promote a Brazilian magazine, Lu has expanded her repertoire to include product reviews, unboxing videos and software tips.
2. They can drive sales
CGI influencers aren’t just another pretty face designed to keep their followers’ interest. With carefully curated content that educates, informs or entertains, some of the most popular characters drive engagement and sales.
Virtual Barbie, perhaps the closest thing consumers will ever see to a human version of the iconic toy, has helped boost Mattel’s profits with her 11.1M subscriber base on YouTube. During the early part of the pandemic, Mattel created a vlog that saw the celebrity CGI influencer baking banana bread, wearing a mask, and participating in online challenges. By 2021, the company reported a record $1.68 billion in gross sales.
3. Some have a multimedia presence
Part of the beauty of virtual influencers is that they have few limits on how they can be used in marketing. Beyond touting a trending clothing line or promoting a new video game launch, these character creations can be designed to do almost anything.
Virtual singer-songwriter Pol Songs might be best known in Spain, where he made his first appearance in 2020, but has been interviewed in Vein Magazine and has several songs on Spotify. If algorithms can create complex, catchy beats and write lyrics based on teen angst, imagine the applications for marketing with CGI’s next best thing to humans.
4. Younger generations are more welcoming of virtual influencers
If your brand is targeting audiences under 45, the demographics seem to align in your favor. While most Boomers surveyed (74%) said they don’t follow any virtual influencers and Gen X (ages 45 to 54) were nearly split, younger consumers appear to have welcomed the concept with open arms.
Among 35 to 44-year-olds and 25 to 34-year-olds, a whopping two-thirds of consumers say they follow at least one virtual influencer. That number goes up to 75% for the youngest adults (18-24 years old).
These numbers may be due to trust, reliability and sheer exposure to virtual influencers on platforms. Human influencers, however, are trusted by their audiences. IZEA’s Trust in Influencer Marketing report found 92% of all respondents ages 18-29 follow social media influencers.
5. They’re cutting edge
There’s no doubt that brands shouldn’t jump on bandwagon trends without researching or knowing the risks and benefits of implementing new approaches into their marketing. But embracing new technologies can give the impression that your brand is trendy and willing to stray from tried-and-true practices.
For trailblazing brands, virtual influencers can engage consumers’ curiosity and create a perception of newness and novelty. But whether you partner with an existing V.I. or create your own, it’s important to study the dos and don’ts of using a character to promote your products and services.
Lines can get crossed when brands go for the “wow” factor without fully thinking through the potential consequences. When Calvin Klein released a video of supermodel Bella Hadid kissing virtual influencer Lil Miquela, critics weren’t happy about it.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, there are also costs and ethics to consider when trying out virtual influencers.
If your brand uses influencer marketing with real humans, leaping partnerships with virtual influencers may feel like the next logical leap. But it’s important to start with some research.
Check out some of the virtual influencers mentioned above to understand how they work, who they work with and whether your target market will appreciate, relate to and trust this new type of marketing. Understand the virtual world before you commit your real-world budget to the relatively new tool to reach consumers. After all, we have plenty of talented human creators ready to work with brands in The Creator Marketplace®.