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Virtual influencers

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Within the marketing community’s argument for and against virtual influencers

The technology available are also evolving and increasing along with the creative economy.

Let us introduce virtual influencers. That’s correct—digital personalities, if you will, are occasionally employed in place of real influencers in order to reach new markets and highlight the cutting edge of business innovation.

Although the idea of virtual influencers is not new—they have been around since the early 2000s—marketers’ interest in these digital personalities has increased as a result of the development of artificial intelligence and the creator economy.

For instance, the luxury apparel company Coach debuted its “Find Your Courage” campaign in March, showcasing real superstars including American rapper Lil Nas X, American actress Camila Mendes, South Korean rapper Youngji, Japanese model Kōki, and Chinese actress Wu Jinyan with virtual influencer Imma.

Social media sites are now getting involved. According to reports, TikTok is working on an AI-powered feature that would produce AI influencers to appear in videos and maybe compete with human producers for advertising agreements.

However, just like AI has drawn criticism (consider claims like “it will steal all the jobs”), virtual influencers have also touched a raw nerve with a number of people in the marketing sector, some of whom have diametrically opposed opinions.

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To help you make up your mind, Digiday has outlined the reasons both in favor of and against these digital non-humans.

Justifications for online influencers

minimal production expenses

Large budgets come to mind when you think of a campaign: recruiting talent, transportation, lodging, setting, cosmetics, and all of it. Merely a few minutes of video are produced for global consumption, yet a complex production process lies behind the scenes.

However, suppose you deploy a virtual influencer in place of hiring talent. Given that all that’s required is this digital figure on a screen, which can be worked on by a team from anywhere, those expenses are probably going to be far lower. In contrast, Rafael Schwartz, the chief revenue officer of the influencer marketing company Territory Influence, stated that, in the case of a larger influencer, he would (for example) invest at least $50,000 for a comprehensive video production; in contrast, a virtual influencer may lower that cost to less than $1,000.

Lebo Kambule, the CEO and creator of the virtual tech, media, and AI talent management business The Avatar Company, who also oversees virtual influencer Kimzulu, added that another advantage of virtual influencers is their almost limitless potential. “A virtual influencer might be used to construct a campaign with explosions or anything visually striking but possibly harmful without risking injury. You’re still receiving the desired outcomes while avoiding all those insurance and legal costs.

Flexibility in scheduling

Influencers that operate virtually are not bound by the same 24-hour day as people. Add to this the fact that the average person’s calendar fills up rapidly, and tensions can escalate.

“As someone who has managed human influencers for years, availability has always been a challenge for me,” Kambule added. Everyone has a schedule, therefore it’s not bad to have one. But they may do anything at any moment with a virtual influencer.

Lu do Magalu, who works around the clock, seven days a week, is a tried-and-true example of that. Founded in 2003, Magalu is a virtual influencer whose job it is to assist Brazilian retail firm Magazine Luiza’s clients with their purchases as their virtual assistant. After being well-received, Magalu went on to become a well-known virtual influencer and worked with Adidas, Red Bull, and Samsung in addition to making appearances on reality TV series like Dancing with the Stars.

Lil Miquela, also known as Brazilian-American Miquela Sousa, is another example. Lil Miquela was developed by the American AI media startup Brud, and she has already signed contracts with high-end retailers like Prada.

authority over content

Giving up control over material to influencers or artists may be challenging for marketers since they dislike ceding control of their work. Marketers may keep total control over content by partnering with a virtual influencer.

When working with a human creative, you don’t have the same level of control as a brand marketer, according to Schwartz. Additionally, since virtual influencers won’t be discovered intoxicated at a party or acting foolishly elsewhere, there won’t be any controversies involving them.

Since influencers in any public setting are by definition representatives of the company or companies they work with, it seems sense that brands would want them to act appropriately, which virtual influencers undoubtedly do.

Rebuttals to online influencers

Exorbitant tech expenses

The cost to create a virtual influencer is high since it involves a lot of sophisticated technology and code.

Kambule stated, “Kim’s is a lot higher whenever I quote for a human influencer versus Kimzulu because there’s so much that’s involved.” And by that, Kambule refers to his three-person team, which consists of two women in addition to him, one of whom speaks for Kimzulu and the other of whom mimics her body language. The three of them map and develop the virtual influencer digitally, treating her like a real person.

According to Kambule, “We even created a DNA chart which broke down all aspects of her personality,” indicating that a lot of sophisticated work is being done behind the scenes.

Absence of feeling or sincerity

Human experience and emotion work in favor of human influencers despite the intense scrutiny around their authenticity.

According to Lea Karam, consulting director at behavioral consultancy Behave, consumers buy into influencers based on how much they can identify to their personality and experiences, feeling parasocially linked to them. Since virtual influencers are not people, they are unable to experience human emotions. They’re not as excellent, but they can replicate experiences,” Karam said.

While virtual influencers do have a role, as Karam clarified, it is more effective for them to concentrate on practical use cases like cosmetics application than it is for real influencers. Because AI self-learns, the technology can gather social behaviors. “It is better to use virtual influencers for functional rather than emotional purposes because, as consumers, we still need to connect with humans in order to develop that emotional connection,” Karam said.

AI influencers may reduce the number of human influencers.

Naturally, there will be some worry about the future implications of virtual influencers on the duties of human influencers. Regarding payments and rates, the creator economy is still far from regulated; this is something the industry is still figuring out.

As it is, the rates of human influencers differ based on several criteria, such as the quantity of followers, the social media platforms utilized, and the influencer’s previous performance. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, a mid-tier influencer (with 50,000 to 500,000 followers) may make between $500 and $5,000 on Instagram and between $125 and $1,250 on TikTok for each post. Similarly, because companies embrace their celebrity-like status, mega influencers (those with more than a million followers) might get up to $1 million each Instagram post and up to $2,500 per TikTok post.

The more following a human influencer has, the more you have to spend. Therefore, the cost of such alliance rises as the influencer’s success does, according to Schwartz. “The construction of the influencer is the largest expenditure made in virtual influencers. However, when more material is produced, each piece gets cheaper since the system will have a multitude of resources to draw from. Because they are just paying for the content and not the followers, advertising won’t have to pay exorbitant pricing as the cost of providing additional material decreases over time.

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