Photo source: mayaaa.gram
Lil Miquela or Miquela Sousa made a big hit in 2016. She was named one of the 25 Most Influential People on the Internet. But she isn’t real. Literally. Not a real person at all. She is a virtual influencer. Yet, her Instagram account has garnered more than 3 million followers, and she has been endorsing major brands.
As discussed in the previous post, the influencer industry is still new among companies and brands. Despite the virtual persona being fictitious, the major brands didn’t seem to care and started investing heavily in Virtual Influencer Marketing. What makes virtual influencers so special?
The beginning of Virtual Influencer
Virtual Influencers are portrayed as fictional people with personality traits and hobbies. The phenomena of virtual avatars originated Japanese anime back in the 1980s. But animation has been used as a marketing tool since as early as 1940s.
The evolution of the Virtual Avatar.
- Virtual Idol (Hatsune Miku, 2007)
- Virtual YouTuber (Kizuna AI, 2016)
- Virtual Influencer (Lil Miquela, 2016)
Why are major brands engaging virtual influences?
According to Forbes (2022), they have conducted research on the benefits of engaging virtual influencer:
Unlimited Creative Opportunities
Unlike like human influencers, there are fewer restrictions with virtual influencers. They don’t even have to be in human form. They can be anything.
For example, Superplastic created non-human virtual influencers to promote their brand, known as the “Superplastic Universe”. The brand is one of the world’s top creators of animated celebs, vinyl toys & digital collectibles. The list includes JANKY & GUGGIMON and DAYZEE & STAXX.
These figures are also participating in the marketing of luxury brands such as Gucci, Rico Nasty, and more.
Full Brand Control
Virtual influencers are always available. They will never have any scheduling problems. Therefore, brands started to invest in their own virtual avatars. For example, Geico, an insurance company, transformed its mascot into a virtual influencer, the GEICO Gecko. Geico made its first appearance in TV commercial in year 2000, sharing insights about saving money on insurance..
Prada has launched its own virtual human model, Candy. The goal is to re-launch the Prada Candy Fragrance for their ReThink Reality Campaign. However, this is not their first virtual collaboration. The brand used to work with Lil Miquela and Noonoouri for their marketing campaigns. By using Prada’s own virtual influencer, it can save tons of money.
Route to the metaverse
Is Metaverse the future? It’s promising. It might provide a new space for virtual characters to connect with their fans. The major brands sure don’t want to miss out on the opportunities. Even pop icons like Ariana Grande and Lil Nas X have held concerts in Fornite’s metaverse.
Are virtual influencers taking over the marketing world?
At least not for now. There are risks working with virtual influencers. Why?
Lack authenticity and reliability
Unlike human influencers, virtual influencers lack authenticity and reliability. For example, beauty and skincare brands will not be looking for a virtual influencer to feature their products, for obvious reasons.
Scandals can happen too
Some might think scandals are impossible with virtual idols. Think again. The controversy of Calvin Klein’s past campaign is a good case study. The brand released a video of supermodel Bella Hadid making out with virtual influencer Lil Miquela. The video put a huge dent on its brand image. An official statement of apology had to be issued.
Negative impact on younger audience
The glorified image of virtual influencers might create negative influence, especially on younger audiences. The perfection is unrealistic. Youngsters pursuing such unattainable perfection are putting unnecessary pressure on themselves.
Virtual Influencer Marketing in Malaysia:
We have observed that some companies are attempting to get involved in virtual influencer marketing to boost brand awareness. Whether the effort will be fruitful, it is still too early to tell.
Who knows, maybe human influencer would create a virtual version of themselves. It would be advantageous for them to profit from both worlds.
In our opinion, virtual icons are just different ways for brands and companies to convey their message. CONTENT and COMMUNICATION are still the core of marketing.
Tips to start a Virtual Influencer Collaboration Project
Start with a 2D Virtual Avatar
It’s not necessary to make your virtual icon in 3D, like Lil Miquela. Disney’s Mickey Mouse started with 2D animation, and it has now become one of the biggest influencers.
According to an interview with Emilia Petrarca, fashion news writer fpr The Cut‘s, there are at least 8 steps to creating a virtual avatar. The writer teamed up with her in-house designer and outlined how a virtual avatar can be created.
“The eight-step tutorial includes building a default character, aligning geometry to reference the photo, projecting the map photo, adding texture, teaching the model to pose, picking an environment, lighting, and finally exporting the finished look.”
Believe it or not, all these can be done within 48 hours. Time to discuss with your in-house designer and start right now. Small steps can result in big changes.
Work with an AI company
The journey to creating a virtual icon could be long and arduous. Working together with a software developer could speed up the progress. However, the production expenses could be extremely high. Plan well before proceeding.
Collaborate with Virtual Influencer Marketing Agency
If you do not have a big budget to program your own virtual icon, why not start with a marketing agency that can provide access to virtual influencer services? Tell them campaign objective and let them help. At least it won’t be as costly.
If none of these tips help, the best bet would be to stick with human influencers. Let us provide you with a solution. Contact us now.