It was around this time last year when I first learnt of virtual influencers. I was in the midst of writing my dissertation (those three weeks went by quite quickly) and came across the term while researching influencer marketing trends.
I had no idea these CGI (Content Generated Imagery) influencers existed and didn’t know how much influence they actually had. The stars of the virtual influencer world, Lil Miquela and Imma were heading to Coachella, advertising for fashion brands and appearing in magazines.
But where are they now? Has coronavirus done them out of a job? Did the virtual influencer trend die along with my love for my dissertation?
Related: The Rise of the Virtual Influencer
RECAP: WHAT IS A VIRTUAL INFLUENCER?
Virtual influencers are created through CGI and artificial intelligence and have realistic characteristics, features and the personalities of humans.
More and more brands are starting to create their own virtual influencer as there are both great benefits that come with them but also a few drawbacks.
These virtual influencers are life-like and from their Instagram profiles, you would think they were real people, interacting with followers, posting about their outfits and even appearing to be at the world’s most glamorous and popular events.
WHO ARE THE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?
Let’s start with the OG of virtual influencers, Lil Miquela. With a following of 2.3 million on Instagram, she’s been all over the world and has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest brands.
This virtual influencer has worked with Samsung, been on a Calvin Klein ad with Bella Hadid and was even listed as one of the most influential people on the internet in 2018 by The Times.
On top of all of that, Lil Miquela has even released her own music on Spotify, gaining influence in music, fashion and technology.
Virtual influencer Shudu, with a following of 200,000 attended last year’s Met Gala, was reposted by Fenty Beauty to a following of 8.1 million and has since modeled for Balmain.
A male virtual influencer, Blawko, with 157,000 followers has even been upgraded to wearing masks in all of his posts. He’s been deemed a ‘young robot sex symbol’ because of his cool street-wear and tattoos. Whatever rocks your boat.
WHERE DO THE REAL INFLUENCERS FIT IN?
Will real influencers be ousted thanks to virtual influencers? I can’t see it. I mean, the virtual influencers are a lot cheaper and you can dictate what they say and do, but the bottom line is, they aren’t real.
Consumers want to see real people, doing real things. They want to see how clothes would fit on a real person. They want to see what a real person eats and how they work out.
The virtual influencers might be influential in some aspects, but I don’t see real influencers going anywhere just yet.
WILL THE PANDEMIC HELP OR HINDER THEIR RISE?
Given that real people are currently in lockdown situations and can’t often leave their houses, this could prove to be a peak time for virtual influencers.
Can’t travel? Let this virtual influencer take you on a tour of a remote island of Indonesia. Or how about a luxury villa in Spain? Would you rather a look into an all-inclusive resort in Tuscany?
These influencers are computer-generated. They don’t exist. Therefore, they can’t contract or spread the virus. They can freely travel as they please and show us all the amazing sights and things to do.
These virtual influencers are busy creating content because they’re invincible. But does that mean that they are not relatable? Perhaps. But it can also give followers a sense of hope – “This is what I can do once this pandemic is all over.”
IS THERE STILL A FUTURE FOR VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?
I think so. I think we could see a rise in popularity with younger audiences and younger people on social media. I can’t see a huge popularity among older consumers as they want to see real-life people doing real-life things.
But with the growth of TikTok, I could see a market for computerized influencers. The luxury brands are certainly on board and I can imagine the future of runways and fashion shows could become digitized given the current global pandemic.
You may see runway shows filled with virtual influencers instead of real-life models. Could this be the end for Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber? Time will tell.
But for now, it seems the virtual influencers are still kicking around.