Influencers are one of the most useful marketing tools available to businesses. From global reaching celebrities to micro-influencers, their reviews of your business have the potential to expose you to a completely new audience. But the regular influencer is a thing of the past. Make way for the virtual influencer.
What is a virtual influencer?
In recent years, there has been a drastic increase in the work carried out with Artificial Intelligence (AI). Virtual influencers are just one of the products that have come out of this work. They are avatars designed by artists and built by computers to look like real-life humans. They can walk, talk, and even have the capacity to influence our opinions.
Are there virtual influencers in action now?!
You may have heard of Miquela Sousa, or lil Miquela as she’s better known. She’s had a number one hit on Spotify, has partnered with Prada and runs an Instagram account one million followers strong. She is also a virtual influencer. Nobody knows who was behind her creation, however, judging by her impressive list of brand collaborations, she is obviously doing quite well for herself. But she is also a virtual influencer with a moral compass. She is an avid campaigner and has shown her support for transgender rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
What are the benefits of using virtual influencers?
When you collaborate with an influencer you have to negotiate. You have to agree on the payment method of the collaborator, how much content they have to create, and whether they will be able to uphold your brand values. Even after this has been agreed there is no guarantee that they will stick to their word. They could produce less content than agreed or even do something that questions your brand’s values – remember you are working with people whose whole reputation is about being in the public eye. With virtual influencers, you don’t have to worry about this problem. Humans are controlling their every move. This drastically lowers the risk of them potentially doing something to jeopardise your values.
Additionally, the novelty of using a virtual influencer rather than a normal one will bring more attention to your business. People will be intrigued by this new way of marketing, and will therefore be more inclined to explore the product it is marketing.
Sounds great! Are there any downfalls?
Working with a virtual influencer may sound great, but there are still some grey areas with it. In 2017 the Federal Trade Commission updated its policy. Now when influencers are doing a paid advertisement they must identify it with #Ad or #Sponsored. It is yet unclear how this will translate to virtual influencers.
Moreover, the impact of social media influencers on young people is already questionable. A study for an online science journal titled Computers in Human Behavior conducted in 2016 found a threefold risk of depression and anxiety in people who used most social media platforms. Moreover, in a conversation with an online news outlet The News Daily, body image expert Sarah Hardy says of virtual influencers: “the trend is completely appalling; the images are showing flawless women who are perfect- and it’s sending the wrong message to young men and women”.
Additionally, people may be skeptical of listening to advice from AI. Despite the rise in people using AI such as Siri and Alexa to get information, it is still unknown how well people will take advice from virtual influencers. They will be recommending all types of brands from beauty to clothing and realistically their recommendations cannot be very authentic when they can’t actually feel what they are trying. This may make customers and potential clients very sceptical of your brand.
So, are virtual influencers the future of marketing?
Virtual influencers seem to be emerging as a new form of influencer. They are still being tested out on the market, however, it seems like pretty soon we could be seeing a rise in the artificial influencer. That being said, we should not be discounting the use of real-life influencers. They are much more authentic and can give a much more honest recommendation of your business to their followers. For now, at least, real-life influencers should not be worried.