The line separating the digital world from the real world is getting thinner and thinner: after the major evolution faced by the marketing and advertising industry with the spread of influencer marketing, today’s technology has paved the way for new possibilities that combine reality and fiction, allowing us to usher in the innovative frontier of virtual influencers.
Also known as CGI Influencers (Computer-Generated Imagery Influencers), these fictional characters with seemingly human likenesses and behaviors are made entirely or partially through digital computer graphics techniques and inhabit the virtual space of social media, but their impact extends beyond these platforms.
Indeed, this new generation of influencers is increasingly being employed as a key tool in a new type of digital marketing, adopted by companies wishing to communicate their values and products to a large and fertile pool of potential consumers.
Due to their intriguing and adaptable appearance, CGI influencers attract a more diverse audience than their flesh-and-blood counterparts, and are able to successfully influence the buying processes of their audiences. Although users are aware of the digital nature of these personas, and consequently their inability to interact concretely with the real world, they consider them to be truthful and reliable sources and are likely to interact with the sponsored brand or product.
The origin of this phenomenon dates back to 2016, when a Los Angeles-based company named Brud, which specializes in robotics and artificial intelligence, created Miquela Sousa, a young virtual girl destined to soon become the best-known and most coveted CGI Influencer, a collaborator with brands such as Samsung, Gucci and Prada.
To date, more and more companies have decided to rely on this ever-expanding trend, which is appealing mainly because of the benefits it offers:
- Higher Engagement Rate and Influencing Value than human influencers due to the ability to engage a more diverse audience.
- Controlled communication: the appearance and behavior of virtual influencers are totally controlled, programmed and monitored by their creators, which allows them to avoid making mistakes that could harm the image or reputation of the advertised brand.
- Lower costs: although considerable investment is required to develop such a virtual persona, the costs required are still lower than those for a live influencer.
- Work flexibility: a digital persona can be employed 24/7.
The rise of virtual influencers holds potential of the highest and not insignificant value, but it also involves reflections on ethical issues. Is it possible that in the near future these digital constructions will replace, at least partially, flesh-and-blood human beings?
While some believe that this phenomenon is destined to be short-lived and have minimal impact, many believe that its revolutionary scope will be able to change the logic of how human influencers approach their work: with the ability to create highly detailed CGI versions of themselves, it would be profitable for them to employ such avatars to carry out more campaigns around the world, especially during times of crisis such as today’s due to pandemic and war, which often hinder physical presence.
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