The virtual influencer takes over
Influencer marketing is developing rapidly. Many of us follow persons on social media that we find authentic and whom we can identify with. We trust them more than traditional marketing and perceive it much more credible when our ‘peers’ have a message. But a new trend sets out to break this pattern. Non-human, digital, fictitious identities - also known as virtual influencers - have begun to emerge in our social network, with no signs of slowing down.
We have asked Sofie Desmareth Riemann, Advisor & Partner from the communication agency RelationsPeople about her thoughts on this new tendency.
A new trend has seen the light of day - virtual influencers, or avatar influencers. These influencers are popular and they raise the question: is it crucial that an influencer is a real person?
The world wants to be deceived. Old news. As humans we love to strive for something unattainable that is not necessarily human. With that being said – can artificial influencers achieve success in line with human pendants? And what happens with credibility, which is the influencer’s trademark?
For example, if we look at Lilmiquela who has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, or Indonesian Thalasya_with over 470,000 followers on Instagram, the answer is pretty clear. Yes, they can easily achieve success. They can become new names in music, and are used in campaigns for well-known clothing brands etc. Exactly like human influencers.
Back to the 90’s: fictitious people are effective in marketing
This is not the first time that fictitious, man-made personalities break through. Consider the 90’s band Gorillaz that consisted of four animated musicians, or the Danish musician, Gulddreng, who was neither animated nor virtual, but still, the fictional storytelling is in the same genre as the virtual influencers we see today.
The approach excites curiosity, and it is possible for the creators to play with several extreme traits that they know is unattainable and thus highly desirable.
The trend around the virtual/digital influencers has also led to the first digital model agency. Take the model Shudu, the first digital photo model, which among others has been modelling for the jewelry company Tiffany & Co. She is 100% animated, like the other models in the stable of the Diigitals.
Robot clone taking the US market
Most recently, the Swedish influencer Isabella Löwengrip has launched an American robot clone of herself on Instagram called Gabrielle Löwengrip. The clone is currently human-controlled, but Isabella Löwengrip has stated that it will be driven by artificial intelligence in the long term. The purpose of this virtual influencer is to influence the American market – specifically with a focus on the influencer’s beauty products.
There is no doubt that the trend is about cool cash and excellent storytelling. But what happens to the influencer’s trademark; credibility? Exactly this is the element that, along with the digital platform and the commercial opportunities, that pushed influencers onto the marketing stage.
The important thing is whether it is transparent to readers, what they get, what is real, and what is not. It is doubtful whether this is the case in the above examples. Many followers ask questions about who controls the profiles, is it artificial intelligence, is it real people, does the influencers exist as robots in reality etc. As consumers, we must be able to decode the context in order to understand what we are part of ourselves - like when influencers are required to mark what is advertising and what is not.
Is credibility already outmoded?
The question today is whether many of the great influencers are made up stories too. Or at least manipulated and roughly edited narratives that are simply based on the lives of real people.
Despite various counter-reactions towards the polished influencer profiles, where everything is perfectly portrayed, with happy days, sunsets and impeccably fluffed pillows on the couch, these types of profiles still exist and even in full development.
From my end of the table there is room for both, but the polished influencer profiles and the new virtual influencers do not bring the original strength and authenticity into play that the influencer category otherwise started out building on. The credibility and the human narrative are toned down, and instead, deeply professional, new marketing platforms are established. That is the new reality. Regardless, we will continue to see an increasing professionalization of the entire field, along with a division into new types of influencer categories.