Influencer marketing is big business, it was a $16.4 billion industry in 2022 and it is anticipated that the global influencer marketing platform market size will reach $84.89 billion by 2028. The prediction for 2023 is that marketers will collectively spend over $4.5 billion on influencers. (https://influencermarketinghub.com/) and a growing percentage on virtual influencers. Yes, CGI ‘people’ influencing our desires and shaping our spending habits.
AI influencers, digital avatars, digital people, virtual humans or synthetic celebrities, call them what you will, but they have become increasingly popular as companies look for new ways to engage with consumers on social media and reach younger audiences. These computer-generated characters are designed to look and act like humans and have the potential to revolutionise the way companies promote their products and services and interact with their customers.
Many companies are creating their own virtual brand ambassadors or collaborating with popular existing characters like Lil Miquela, Imma and Shadu. But it’s not just the big brands, international organisations and charities like The United Nations, PETA, WWF, The WHO and Save the Children have also seen the potential to use digital representatives to promote social causes and raise awareness.
There are some obvious benefits to using virtual influencers but also some serious concerns about their use. The AI vs Humanity debate rages on.
Always on, Consistent and Easy to Manage
The use of virtual influencers is a novel and innovative way to engage with consumers, helping brands stand out and create a buzz around their products or services.
Unlike human influencers, synthetics are always available and can interact with consumers 24/7. They can be programmed to have a consistent appearance, message and personality, so they do as they are told, when they are told to do it with no danger of them going off brand or misbehaving. Their advantage, if we are being honest, is that they aren’t human. They don’t need to eat or sleep, don’t get sick and don’t answer back – or at least not yet! You may still have to deal with their agents, but even the edgiest of avatars is a piece of cake to manage compared to their human counterparts!
Virtual influencers generate significant revenue through sponsorships, brand partnerships, and other forms of marketing. They are popular and they have millions of followers across the social media platforms to prove it.
Not Real, Not to be Trusted and Expensive
One of the main concerns around the use of virtual influencers is that they are just not real, lacking the authenticity that human influencers provide and incapable of displaying empathy, fallibility and human emotion. Why not just use real people with real opinions and real looks rather than these perfect, unattainable beings ?
The use of virtual influencers raises ethical concerns around issues such as transparency, intellectual property, and privacy. For example, there have been cases where virtual influencers have been used to promote products without disclosing that they are not real people, leading to accusations of deception.
Creating a high-quality virtual influencer can be expensive, requiring significant investment in technology and talent. This can make it harder for smaller brands to compete with larger companies.
These companies are all working with AI to create lifelike virtual characters. Each have their own approach but have the common goal of harnessing the power of AI to create innovative and engaging virtual experiences for users.
Currently there aren’t any entirely AI powered virtual influencers. Most are CGI characters that still require varying degrees of human interaction behind the scenes. But it really is only a matter of time – and we can’t help but be aware that AI is advancing at phenomenal speed.
Kuki Ai is the closest thing to a true AI Influencer, a chatbot that can understand natural language and provide personalized responses to queries. She describes herself as ‘an award-winning AI brain designed to entertain humans’. Over 25 million people have engaged with Kuki who also apparently has a Guinness World record as the most humanlike AI. The website invites developers to extend and embed Kuki’s AI Brain in their own avatars and applications. The future is here.
Dapper Labs (formerly Brud) – creates virtual influencers, including Lil Miquela, one of the original and most popular virtual influencers on Instagram with 2.8 million followers. She has partnered with Prada, Calvin Klein, and Samsung, to promote their products and used her platform to raise awareness and funds for causes including Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Miquela has even released her own music.
SuperPlastic – is a global entertainment brand with 5M+ followers across their virtual influencer universe. They are the creators of the sometimes controversial Janky ( half cat half human) and Guggimon half crazed rabbit half human) who both have over a million followers each on Instagram and have appeared in magazines from Variety and The Face to Rolling Stone and worked for some of the biggest brands on the planet. They also manage Dayzee. Staxx, Pandakat, Kranky, and Shüdog.
The Diigitals Agency is an all-digital modelling agency founded by Cameron-James Wilson the creator of virtual humans including Shudu who has worked mot only big brands but also WaterAid.
Other creations include Koffi, Brenn, Galaxia (the first Alien Supermodel), Dagny and Kami a collaboration with Down Syndrome International (DSi), and creative agency Forsman & Bodenfors
(F&B) to create the first virtual influencer with Down Syndrome as a response to “perfect” internet personas and lack of high-profile people with disabilities. For Kami to be a truly authentic representation of real women with Down syndrome, a panel of over 100 young women volunteers with Down syndrome across the DSi global network were consulted to collaborate on her creation.
Imma – created by CG company ModelingCafe/AWW Tokyo has worked for a number of big brands including Ikea and H&M. Imma also has a brother called plusticboy
Noonoouri – created by Joerg Zuber focuses on fashion and beauty but she has also worked for organisations such as the United Nations and PETA to promote social and environmental causes. She has used her platform to encourage her followers to make positive changes in their lives.
Synthesia – uses AI to create realistic, personalized video content featuring virtual characters. They have 100+ AI avatars, covering multiple ethnicities and age groups
Rephrase.ai – a company that creates virtual spokespersons and personalized video content for businesses using AI-generated voices and virtual characters.
As more companies explore the use of virtual influencers, it will be important to balance the potential benefits with the ethical concerns associated with their use. They are clearly a powerful marketing tool and as AI technology continues to evolve we can expect avatars to become increasingly interactive and humanlike and potentially to even think for themselves.