Today, virtual influencers are like the first bloggers that surfaced 20 years ago, when the internet was gaining mass popularity. No one could predict how digital consumption would change our lives. The same goes for virtual influencers. They haven't existed for a long time, yet millions of people and thousands of brands are already following them. And, of course, virtual models and artificial intelligence will affect influencer marketing and our everyday lives.
Let's find out who creates virtual influencers and why. How much does it cost? What are the advantages of virtual models? Why shouldn’t we completely abandon the classics?
In 2020, Bloomberg reported that a 19-year-old robot from Los Angeles earned $8,500 for one Instagram advertising post. So, meet this robot named Lil Miquela. The Brud marketing agency created Miquela. According to estimates by the British trading platform OnBuy, Miquela earned about $11 million in 2020.
Based in California, the 19-year-old Lil Miquela is half Brazilian and half Spanish. She makes music, collaborates with Samsung and Calvin Klein and launched her own clothing line. Lil Miquela even has a relationship from time to time. And yes, she has a challenger who is also a woman and has Brazilian roots.
Lu do Magalu has almost six million followers on Instagram. She records unboxing videos and product reviews.
In 2019, Magalu earned $552 million.
Creative studios and brands make virtual influencers. As a rule, an entire team of 3D artists is behind the digital personality. The price for drawing a 3D model starts at $10,000. But to "animate" a virtual influencer, you need a team of content creators who will "live" with a model.
The main difficulty is not the drawing but coming up with a story and creating characters that hook an audience and attract brand attention. For example, the modeling virtual agency ‘’The Diigitals’’ presents several virtual supermodels at once that collaborate with fashion brands.
There is another way how brands create their own virtual ambassadors. This strategy was chosen by Renault. In 2019, the crossover Renault Kadjar was represented by the virtual model Liv.
However, the advertisement didn't hit its full potential. Maybe it was because the idea was proposed a little ahead of its time. Nearly three years later, virtual influencers are still just entering the European influencer platform. However, in Asia, the situation is quite different.
According to Bloomberg, the virtual influencer industry in China has grown 70% since 2017 and reached $960 million in 2021. Their mainly Gen Z and millennial audiences now reach almost 390 million people.
China’s top three virtual influencers have nothing in common except the audience’s love. Luo Tianyi is an anime character with more than five million followers on Weibo (Twitter’s analog).
Ayayi is a model with a stunning graphic drawing. It would be difficult to distinguish her from a live person in some scenes. She does not have many followers on Instagram, but she has already collaborated with major brands such as Louis Vuitton.
Angie is a virtual model created in 2020. Its feature is "imperfection". “Her characteristics and details all have a bit of this 'real-life' feeling,” says its creator Jesse Zhang, the director of a Shenzhen-based CGI animation company. Angie is popular on Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) with over 300,000 followers, but her creator hasn’t made money on the brand’s collaborations yet. Overall, virtual idols can be cheaper compared to human celebrities. But top virtual idols can also be very expensive to hire too. Just one shout-out by a top virtual influencer during a live stream could cost up to $140,000, said Hong Kong-based marketing expert and brand consultant Miro Li. How many people are on the virtual influencer team?
The 21-year-old model, rozy.gram is the first Korean virtual influencer, and she has over 100K followers on Instagram.
According to local media, rozy.gram has already made more than 100 advertising campaigns and is projected to earn more than one billion Korean won in 2021. Not her, of course, but by Sidus Studio X, that promotes rozy.gram.
Rozy.gram is not limited to Instagram. The Korean insurance company Shinhan Life advertisement, featuring a virtual model, has been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube. “These days, celebrities are sometimes withdrawn from dramas that they have been filming because of school violence scandals or bullying controversies. However, virtual humans have zero scandals to worry about,” said CEO Sidus Studio X Baek Seung-yeop.According to the company’s CEO, the content is created by a team of about ten people. Depending on a scene's complexity, it takes two to three days to complete the content. Young people create most of the content. The team is the same age as rozy.gram - all representatives of Generation Z.“I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over so that I can meet up with my friends again. Being a virtual human, I can visit any place but it’s not fun to be alone all the time,” rozy.gram said.
Model and her creators’ plans are not just limited to Influencer Marketing. Perhaps she will star in movies or TV series in the future. Considering the success of "The Squid Game", rozy.gram has the best chance to conquer the world.
If you compare HypeAuditor's reports over the past three years, it may be true that virtual influencers are better than real ones. For example, virtual influencers have engagement rates almost three times higher than real influencers’ engagement rates.
The core audience of virtual influencers is women between 18 and 34 years old (44.76%). However, there are also many younger people between 13 and 17 years old (14.64%). That’s double the average of regular influencers, whose young audience averages about 7% of their entire audience.
Let us also note the positive expert expectations from Mark Zuckerberg's Meta universe, perhaps the perfect place for virtual influencers. «Zuckerberg is creating a new place for communication in the metaverse, and our virtual humans will become something that people will inevitably need in the metaverse, and I believe that this will create value for us as a brand», said Moriya Takayuki, CEO Aww Inc., creator of Imma.Gram.
And finally, let’s make it clear that virtual influencers, after all, have drawbacks. And it's not just the time used preparing content. Because virtual influencers are a new phenomenon, for some who encounter them in real life, they may cause anxiety. This phenomenon already has a name – uncanny Valley. This is a feeling of unease and discomfort when a person encounters a virtual doppelganger.
Maybe after a while, virtual content will be specially labeled, like movie posters marked 18+, for example. But for now, virtual influencers live near us and help us develop influencer marketing.