Through the pandemic, virtually every industry around the world has faced a new set of social constraints. These constraints have forced adaptation and innovation to survive in a shifting marketplace. The marketing industry is no exception, with these new constraints driving innovative ideas which allow for greater control in an unpredictable social landscape. Enter, the virtual influencer.
Virtual influencers continue to capture the attention of brands, and their spending appears to pay off. McGill Business Review reported that brands will spend approximately $15 billion by 2022 on influencers. More prominent brands already include virtual influencers (VI) in their marketing strategy, see Samsung, KFC, L’Oréal, or Balmain. In 2021, Statistica reported that 40% of respondents had been influenced into buying a product shared by virtual influencers (VI). In 2019, Yoox, a fashion, lifestyle, and art brand, leveraged their own VI, Daisy, to launch a marketing campaign resulting in the reach of over 2.5 million users, and an increased engagement rate of over 11.9%.
Now, simply because brands are investing in virtual influencers does not mean they have the ability to entirely replace a brand’s influencer strategy, given VIs can’t do reviews, like unboxing reviews, for instance, or affiliate in the same way traditional influencers can. Virtual influencers also suffer from the inherent weakness in celebrity influencing generally, as there’s no silver bullet to guarantee success when selling a product with an influencer. However, virtual influencers have the ability to outperform traditional celebrity influencers in a few key ways.
Traditional celebrity influencers only have the power to amplify the lifestyle aspects of the brand, where it’s vital to have a highly controlled reflection of the type of lifestyle with which a brand wishes to identify. A virtual influencer offers a tidy alternative to the traditional influencer, in that this lifestyle can be tightly controlled by the brand. When brands have researched a particular demographic thoroughly, they have the ability to target that particular lifestyle perfectly. Thus, the output is measurable, and the work ethic invested is controllable. Virtual influencers can also be developed to create a more diverse picture of any particular lifestyle. There are endless opportunities to include and create individuals with increasingly diverse and specific backgrounds.
Virtual influencers appear to also be an effective tool given their ability to maximize returns while mitigating scandal risk. The scandals of recent influencers Kris Wu and Olivia Jade Giannulli confirm that it is a risk for brands to partner with those whose behavior you can not control. Kris Wu, a Chinese Canadian pop singer, is currently part of a sexual assault scandal resulting in the termination of his partnership with 10 brands, including Porsche and Bulgari. In 2019, Olivia Jade Giannulli, college admissions USC scandal, resulted in the loss of partnerships with Amazon, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs Beauty, Smashbox Beauty Cosmetics, Smile Direct Club, Too Faced Cosmetics, Boohoo, and Unilever’s TRESemmé. Virtual influencers can be generated remotely, they can be in two places at once, and their behavior can be changed on the fly.
However, while virtual influencers share the same rewards, and limited risks as traditional influencer partnerships, they are an unnecessary additional cost when brands can create their own. Bloomburg Business reported that Virtual Influencer Lil Miquela has a large reach for brands, with approximately 3 million followers on Instagram, but charges approximately $8,500 per sponsored post. Lil Miquela had made $11.7 million for Brud in 2020 alone.
The question is not why are brands using VIs. Rather, the question should be, why aren’t brands creating their own VIs? Brands building their own VIs offers limited risks, higher rewards, at a much lower cost. Hylink Quantum, the influencer (and virtual influencer) division of Hylink Digital Solutions, has launched VI Aimee to great success in China. Aimee is a thoughtful, elegant, honest, young French-Chinese woman, who found at a young age that fashion was one of the most personal and artistic ways to communicate her cross-cultural identity. Aimee currently works out of Los Angeles, but is always travelling the world to discuss art and fashion with the masters of their craft. Aimee has already partnered with some of the world’s most renowned beauty and fashion brands, and is always looking to collaborate with those that share the same values of tradition, elegance, honesty, and beauty. For Hylink, Aimee is part of a more significant trend of putting clients’ in full 360-degree control in positioning their marketing spending and messaging, while never losing the authenticity of someone who shares the resonating lifestyle that their brand followers desire.