A new phenomenon is capturing the spotlight and reshaping the landscape of digital marketing: virtual influencers.
Often referred to as CGI influencers, these entities are fictional, computer-generated characters meticulously crafted to possess the physical characteristics, features and personas akin to real humans.
As they increasingly populate social channels, their presence marks a significant shift in the influencer marketing industry, where the line between virtual and reality blurs seamlessly.
Virtual influencers are more than just digital creations
Virtual influencers represent a fusion of art, technology and social media influence. From Instagram to YouTube, these digital personalities are gaining traction, attracting followers in the millions and forging partnerships with leading brands.
Unlike traditional influencers, they don’t exist in the conventional sense but are born from the ingenuity of their creators – a blend of individuals and brands with a profound passion for technology. These creators remain behind the scenes, yet wield immense control, shaping every aspect of the influencer’s virtual life, from their fashion sense to their social interactions.
The emergence of virtual influencers like Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel, reflects this intriguing trend. Created by digital artist and photographer Cameron-James Wilson, Shudu is inspired by cultural icons and represents a new frontier in the digital space.
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As we delve into the world of virtual influencers, we explore a realm where creativity knows no bounds, yet raises questions about authenticity, influence and the future of digital interaction.
Top Tip: If you’re new to influencer marketing, read our complete guide – your one-stop resource for getting started.
In this article, we will navigate the pros and cons of virtual influencers, examining their impact on the marketing industry, the ethical considerations and their potential to redefine engagement in the digital age. First up, the good stuff…
Pros of Virtual Influencers
1. Complete creative control
One of the most significant advantages of virtual influencers is the unparalleled level of creative control they offer. Creators, whether they are individuals or brands, can meticulously craft every aspect of these influencers’ personas – from their physical appearance and fashion sense to their actions and public statements.
This control extends to ensuring brand alignment and consistency across various campaigns. By designing every detail, creators can avoid the unpredictability often associated with human influencers, such as off-brand behaviour or controversial statements, thereby maintaining a pristine and consistent brand image.
That is unless their creators decide to engage in controversial or unpredictable behaviour themselves. Just as a human influencer’s actions can impact their personal brand, the actions of a virtual influencer’s creator can also reflect on their digital creation.
2. High engagement rates
Virtual influencers are not merely digital entities. They are engagement powerhouses.
With their unique and often idealised appearances, coupled with intriguing backstories, they captivate audiences, leading to higher engagement rates.
Studies suggest that virtual influencers can generate up to three times the engagement of their human counterparts. While this could be due to the novelty factor, this increased engagement can be pivotal for brands looking to maximise the impact of their marketing campaigns and reach a broader audience more effectively.
3. Global reach and appeal
Characters like Shudu exemplify the global reach and appeal of virtual influencers.
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These digital personalities can transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, appealing to a diverse, international audience.
This global presence is particularly advantageous for brands aiming to establish or strengthen their international footprint. By collaborating with virtual influencers who have a worldwide following, brands can tap into new markets and demographics, broadening their consumer base.
4. Cost-effective marketing
Virtual influencers offer a cost-effective solution to traditional influencer marketing. Unlike human influencers, they do not require travel, accommodation or other logistical arrangements for their participation in campaigns.
This reduction in operational costs makes them a financially attractive option for brands, especially for those aiming to execute large-scale or international campaigns. Additionally, the ability to reuse and repurpose digital assets further adds to the cost-effectiveness of virtual influencers.
5. Innovative storytelling and settings
The virtual nature of these influencers allows for unparalleled creativity in storytelling. Creators can place their influencers in a variety of settings and narratives that would be logistically impossible or prohibitively expensive with real influencers.
From exotic, unreachable locations to imaginative, fantastical worlds, the backdrop and context for each post can be as creative and varied as desired.
This ability to craft unique and engaging stories around virtual influencers not only captivates audiences but also provides brands with a novel way to showcase their products and services.
Cons of Virtual Influencers
1. Lack of authenticity
A significant drawback of virtual influencers is the inherent lack of authenticity that comes with their non-human nature.
Unlike human influencers who share real-life experiences, emotions and genuine interactions, virtual influencers can only simulate such experiences.
This absence of true human experience might lead to a lack of genuine connection with the audience. While their stories and personalities are crafted carefully, they cannot fully replicate the spontaneous and authentic human element, which often forms the basis of relatability and trust in influencer-audience relationships.
Currently, audience and brand are increasingly focusing on genuine influencers, as discussed in our blog post: Why Authenticity is Key in Influencer Marketing.
2. Ethical and transparency concerns
There are also ethical considerations and concerns about transparency when it comes to virtual influencers. The creators of these digital personalities often remain anonymous, raising questions about accountability in their messaging and influence.
This anonymity can lead to ethical dilemmas, particularly if the audience is unaware that they are engaging with a fictional character. Brands and creators must navigate these waters carefully, ensuring that their audience is clearly informed about the nature of these influencers to maintain trust and credibility.
3. Dependence on creators
Virtual influencers are entirely dependent on their creators for their existence, content and interactions. This dependence limits the scope and diversity of the content they can produce.
Unlike human influencers who can create spontaneous and varied content based on their daily lives and personal experiences, virtual influencers are restricted to what their creators can imagine and execute. This limitation can lead to content that feels repetitive or lacks the dynamic nature of human-driven content.
4. Potential for misinformation and bias
Given that virtual influencers are controlled by their creators, there is a risk of spreading misinformation or biased views, especially if their artificial nature is not disclosed clearly.
This risk is heightened in an era where information is rapidly disseminated, and the lines between genuine and artificial content are increasingly blurred. Creators must exercise responsibility and ethical considerations to ensure that their virtual influencers do not become vehicles for misleading or harmful information.
5. Risk of unrealistic standards
Virtual influencers, often designed to embody idealised beauty standards or lifestyles, can contribute to unrealistic expectations among their audience.
This issue is particularly concerning in the context of mental health and self-esteem, especially among younger audiences who are highly impressionable.
By presenting an unattainable level of perfection, these influencers may inadvertently propagate harmful beauty and lifestyle standards, leading to negative psychological impacts.
Case in point: Shudu Gram
Shudu Gram, created by Cameron-James Wilson, is a virtual influencer that exemplifies the complex issues in the realm of digital personas.
While Shudu has been incredibly successful, she underscores the importance of a creators responsibility in managing virtual influencers, especially concerning cultural sensitivity and the broader social implications of these digital entities.
Her depiction as a black woman by a white male artist led to significant discourse about cultural representation and appropriation. This aspect of Shudu’s creation particularly resonated in discussions on the accuracy and sensitivity required when digital art intersects with real-world cultural identities.
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Furthermore, the initial ambiguity surrounding her CGI nature raised ethical questions about transparency in the virtual influencer sphere. This issue is crucial for maintaining trust and authenticity with audiences.
Additionally, Shudu’s perfectly crafted features ignited debates about the beauty industry’s influence on body image, highlighting the potential of virtual influencers to reinforce unrealistic beauty standards.
What’s next for virtual influencers?
The rise of virtual influencers brings with it a host of additional considerations that extend beyond mere marketing effectiveness.
A crucial aspect is cultural representation and sensitivity. As seen with examples like Shudu, how creators navigate the portrayal of different cultures in their virtual influencers is of paramount importance.
It’s not just about creating a visually appealing character but also about respecting and authentically representing the diverse cultures and ethnicities these characters may embody. Avoiding cultural appropriation and ensuring that these digital entities are developed in a way that honours and respects real-world diversity is a significant challenge that creators must conscientiously address.
Looking ahead, the future of virtual influencers seems poised for continued growth and evolution. The intersection of advancements in AI, machine learning and graphics technology suggests that virtual influencers will become even more lifelike and interactive.
This progression might lead to new forms of social media engagement, where the line between reality and digital creation becomes increasingly blurred. However, this advancement also brings challenges, particularly in terms of ethics and regulation. As virtual influencers become more prevalent, there will likely be a greater need for guidelines and standards to govern their use, especially to protect consumers and ensure fair marketing practices.
Navigating the virtual and real influencer landscape
Virtual influencers represent a fascinating and rapidly evolving facet of digital marketing. They offer numerous advantages, including complete creative control, high engagement rates and cost-effectiveness, making them an attractive option for brands.
However, these benefits are counterbalanced by significant challenges, such as lack of authenticity, ethical concerns and the potential reinforcement of unrealistic standards. The virtual influencer phenomenon is not just a testament to technological advancement but also a prompt for ongoing dialogue about the impact of digital personas in our society.
Match your brand with the perfect influencers
At Hoopla Marketing, we understand the evolving landscape of influencer marketing and the importance of staying ahead of the curve. While virtual influencers are an intriguing aspect of this landscape, our focus remains on connecting brands with real, authentic influencers who resonate with your audience and embody your brand values. We believe in the power of genuine connections and the impact they can have on your marketing campaigns.
We specialise in identifying and partnering with influencers who can bring your brand’s message to life in a way that is both authentic and engaging. From Facebook and Instagram to TikTok and YouTube, we navigate the vast world of influencer marketing to find the perfect match for your brand.
Our track record speaks for itself, with successful collaborations that have generated significant engagement and reach.
See for yourself. Take a look at how we helped Anxt create awareness of its Natural Stress Relief product range with influencer marketing. In total, 62 influencers produced 221 pieces of content, with the campaign reaching 1.1 million people, with 21.6K engagements.
Interested in exploring how influencer marketing can elevate your brand?
We’re here to guide you through every step of the process, from initial research to campaign execution. Discover how our tailored approach can make a difference for your brand. For more information or to discuss your specific needs, reach out to us at email@example.com or give us a call at 0161 731 0048. Let’s create something impactful together.