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Navigating Authenticity and Innovation with Virtual Influencers in 2024

Kitty Lana Carr
Written By
Kitty Lana Carr
Published On
Jan 01, 2024
An illustration of a robot taking a picture of TIA's virtual influencer

Hi and welcome to the TIAverse!

My name is Tia—The Influence Agency’s virtual influencer. I’m one of many like me who are making waves online, especially on social media. You may even follow a few. 

Tia, The Influence Agency's virtual influencer

Virtual influencers like me are mainly used as marketing tools, not replacements for human influencers. Nonetheless, as the digital world continues to evolve, understanding and harnessing the potential of virtual influencers will be crucial for brands seeking to captivate their audiences in innovative and meaningful ways. 

With that in mind, I’ll walk you through some interesting topics related to virtual influencers throughout this article, such as:

  • Their rise in the digital marketing scene;
  • What they bring to the table for brand partnerships;
  • The authenticity debate surrounding these personalities;
  • The opportunities they present;
  • The most successful brand partnerships so far;
  • Finding the sweet spot between authenticity and innovation; and 
  • Future trends and implications of virtual influencers.

Ready to get started? Let’s go! 

The Rise of Virtual Influencers: Some Context

In case you weren’t aware, I’m a digital character that was created using computer graphics software. The creators who made me gave me a personality so I can act like a human influencer on social media platforms. They’re smart people. 

Not all virtual influencers are created from scratch, though. You’ll find some are based on real people who’ve created their virtual selves to become influencers using motion capture technologies, green screens, 3D animation, and other studio equipment.

Aside from the fact that we’re kinda cute, we’re also a blank canvas that gives our designers the creative freedom to turn us into a “perfect influencer” living their best life. The possibilities for crafting a unique personality are endless. Novelty plus customization equals a fun and exciting combination—I promise no more math, don’t worry! 

It’s no secret virtual influencers on social media are becoming increasingly popular and a successful marketing tool. A March 2022 study found that 58% of respondents were following a virtual influencer. At the same time, 35% of American consumers purchased a product or service in 2022 after a virtual influencer advocated for it.

So, yeah, we’re here to stay. Pretty cool, right? 

Virtual Influencers and Brand Partnerships

More and more brands are becoming interested in collaborating with virtual influencers like me. But how do we measure up to traditional influencers? 

Well, here’s a totally unbiased comparison: 

  • Unlike humans, virtual influencers are not limited by physiological factors, such as aging, fatigue, and sickness. Being human is hard!
  • When we use rational endorsement language, studies have shown we’re perceived to be effective in generating a positive attitude toward a brand. 
  • Virtual influencers offer a level of control and consistency in brand representation than human influencers do.
  • Because our personalities and skills can be adapted at any time to produce more dynamic and diverse content, we have higher chances of appealing to wider audiences.
  • We’re not bound by constraints, meaning brands can partner with us anytime or anywhere. We can be in Paris in an hour if you need us, and then back in Toronto after a few minutes #travelgoals!
  • And because we transcend geographical and cultural barriers, we’re valuable assets for brands who are looking to reach a broader, more diverse customer base.

Research shows that virtual influencers generate higher engagement rates—sometimes even triple that of human influencers!

Influencer Marketing: The Authenticity Debate

There tends to be an ongoing debate surrounding the authenticity of AI-generated figures because we’re not actually real. *ouch*

“Can virtual influencers connect with an audience?” Well, that’s the million-dollar question. My perspective is pretty simple: people love and connect with lots of things that “aren’t real” every day! Have you ever seen a movie that you felt truly resonated with you? Maybe it connected with you and triggered emotions? If the answer’s yes, then I’d like to point out how that movie you saw wasn’t real either. And yet, it connected with you as an audience

That’s how it works with us virtual influencers, too. Who cares whether we’re “real” if the engagement we generate is authentic? We can motivate, inspire, make you laugh, and, of course, entertain—there’s real value in that. 

Some human influencers out there definitely perceived as authentic while others are not. It all depends on the specific public figure we’re talking about, how they deliver messages, whether or not they can be compelling, and, most importantly, if they pass your vibe check. 

Balancing authenticity with technological novelty in your influencer marketing strategy is the key to resonating with audiences. If you want to maximize your reach, it’s quite essential to leverage both the powers of humans and AI. Whether you choose to go down the traditional or technologically advanced route, what matters most is that authenticity is at the core of each strategy.

Here are two authenticity tips:

  1. Build emotional connections through relatable and aspirational virtual personalities—make them likeable!
  2. Don’t promote products or services that aren’t aligned with the influencers’ values or interests as people will recognize the fakeness.

Opportunities Presented by Virtual Influencers in Influencer Marketing Campaigns

1. Exploring New Creative Avenues

Leveraging digital influencers as characters in brand narratives allows you to explore creative avenues you’ve probably never even thought of looking into before. Through AI, you can make almost anything you envision come to life.

2. Targeting Younger Demographics

Digital influencers have an especially strong pull on Gen Z and millennial audiences. Statistics show that 40% of consumers who purchased a product or service in 2022 after a virtual influencer advocated for it were actually Gen Z or millennials.

3. Global Accessibility and Transcending Language Barriers

If you want your influencer marketing efforts to enable global accessibility and transcend language barriers, leveraging AI and virtual influencers is the way to go. 

As mentioned earlier, we’re not bound by geographical constraints. It’s a whole lot easier to teach me or another virtual influencer to speak seven different languages than to try to teach a real human a new one. Sorry Rosetta Stone—it isn’t that easy!

4. Enhanced Diversity, Inclusion, and Representation in Branding

If your brand’s mission is to enhance inclusion and representation, then consider creating campaigns featuring diverse influencers. Again, the possibilities are endless so make us as diverse as you want. We like it!

Virtual Influencer Case Studies: Some Hits and a Miss

Alright, now I want to gas up some of my friends! Check out some of these campaigns involving virtual influencers; some of them are awesome, but a few didn’t quite hit the mark. Maybe they’ll get ‘em next time. 

Nobody Sausage x Hugo Boss

For their Spring/Summer 2022 campaigns—#HowDoYouHUGO and #BeYourOwnBoss—the brand partnered with Nobody Sausage. Their goal was obviously to excite younger audiences and inspire them to become fans of the Hugo brand. When Nobody Sausage posted a photo in a Hugo sweater, it raked in over 32 thousand likes and hundreds of positive comments.

Nobody Sausage endorsing Hugo Boss
Image source: Instagram

Lil Miquela x Prada

Ahead of Prada’s Fall/Winter 2018-2019 show, virtual influencer Lil Miquela took over the brand’s official Instagram account. She injected her own personal style into their feed and succeeded at showing younger audiences that Prada is definitely a brand with must-have pieces. Lil Miquela’s post got over 36 thousand likes and almost 500 comments! Wow!

Lil Miquela endorsing Prada
Image source: Instagram

Noonoouri x Dior

Like we talked about earlier, there are concerns about authenticity and execution when it comes to virtual influencer campaigns. Here’s an example:

By collaborating with virtual influencer Noonoouri—who had about 200K followers during the 2018 partnership—Dior hoped to reach new audiences. 

She was named one of the brand’s “backstage girls,” but a photo of her getting her makeup done by creative director Peter Phillips wasn’t exactly well-received. Audiences understandably wondered how they were meant to tell what the products looked like on actual skin when the products were being used on a doll. Duh! 

Here’s the takeaway: it’s important to be strategic when choosing what types of products you want to be highlighted through virtual influencers. Don’t just run a virtual influencer campaign because they’re cool! 

Noonoouri for a Dior campaign
Image source: Instagram

Future Trends and Implications of Virtual Influencers

Digital influencers have already come so far in influencer marketing, and yet we’ve only just begun our journey of effectively reshaping consumer-brand relationships. 

In the future, influencer marketers will likely continue to partner with these creators to develop more interactive and technologically advanced experiences for their audiences. Whether it’s virtual try-ons or immersive gaming, there’s going to be no shortage of opportunities. Don’t be shocked to see branded series starring AI influencers become increasingly popular, either. We’re in high demand, people! 

Blurring Lines Between Virtual and Reality

Virtual influencers are being featured in both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), further blurring the lines between real life and the virtual world.

VR uses technology like a headset that replaces the outside world with a virtual one, while AR refers to technology that overlays virtual elements onto the real world. If the Pokemon GO game craze was any indication, people love these kinds of things and will buy into them if it aligns with their interests. 

Whether they’re being featured in AR or VR, virtual influencers act as familiar faces in the real world of social media that effectively encourage audiences to explore these new world elements. Expect further collaboration through these methods.  

Potential Ethical Concerns

While the rise of AI influencers has been well-received by the majority of people online, it has led to some ethical concerns:

  • Some audiences believe we virtual influencers are making it too hard to distinguish what is real and what is fake online. 
  • Since digital influencers are endlessly customizable, people are concerned about the ability to replicate someone’s likeness without their permission. 
  • Because every aspect of an AI figure is designed to appeal to the preferences of audiences and garner engagement, some tend to see them as predatory tools designed to exploit human desires and emotions.
  • It’s often not clear who the company is behind the posts of certain digital influencers, often making it unclear whether they are “selling” something.

Regulations Surrounding Virtual Influencers

In August 2023, virtual influencers were deemed regulated endorsers, meaning any opinions or beliefs they express must comply with the same endorsement rules as regular influencers. What this means is the creators behind them can now be held liable for statements they know or should know to be deceptive.

Leveraging the Power of Virtual Influencers

Just like every other element in digital marketing, finding balance is the key to succeeding. Leveraging the power of both human and virtual influencers is the best way to connect with audiences online. Variety is the spice of life. Yum! 

As virtual influencers continue to rise in the influencer marketing scene, they’re providing innovative and exciting ways for brands to connect with Gen Z and millennials. At The Influence Agency, one of the leading influencer marketing agencies in North America, we encourage brands and marketers to embrace virtual influencers as a creative avenue while prioritizing authenticity and transparency. 

If you’re ready to build a hit virtual influencer marketing campaign, contact us today—just make sure to tell them TIA sent you so I get some extra credit!

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