Almost human : virtual influencers
18.1% of all the people on Earth use Instagram today.
Instagram is one of the most downloaded apps. Many brands create Instagram profiles in order to profit from strong interaction rates among a huge market of customers (Hsu & Lin, 2020; Socialbakers, 2018). In exchange, influencer marketing, which is defined as marketing communications is growing faster than ever. Instagram influencers follow and engage with other accounts in order to drive more people towards products or services. But nowadays, we notice a wave of online personalities that we refer to as virtual influencers.
What Are Virtual Influencers?
In short, virtual influencer is a digital character created by a developed graphic design software. This realistic character has a personality, an image and even a voice. They act in social media as they are a real influencers.
How do they work ?
Virtual influencers have been all the rage for the past two years and are increasingly popular with brands. Indeed, brands are putting them on stage in advertising campaigns since they have thousands or even millions of followers on social media. Those characters are mostly engaged by cosmetics and luxury brands. Prada for example to relaunch the Prada Candy fragrance, created a virtual human model in order to reach the tech-savvy generation Z.
Indeed, it was not the first time that Prada was using virtual influencers. The first time was in 2018 with Lil Miquela at the fashion week Milan.
Lil Miquela attended the Prada’s fashion show and uploaded backstage videos and preview images of the collection. It was a unique experience for the guests and the fashion industry. It was a beautiful fusion of real and virtual.
Dior, Renault, Coach, Balenciaga and OUAI have also partnered with upcoming virtual stars.
Virtual influencers remove the ethical concerns and those related to authenticity. In fact, they don’t exist offline so the risk of indiscretion will be minimized, and they are even considered « authentically fake » which means that people are aware they consuming a staged content.
Two contradictory arguments about users’ reaction to these Virtual influencers have been raised.
Some studies (Arsenyan and Mirowska 2021) have found that people react socially, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally to virtual agents similarly as they do with human influencers. Furthermore, anthropomorphizing resulted in favorable psychological responses.
Other authors who based their work on the interpersonal theory, found that users react differently depending on whether they believed they were interacting with a computer or a human, in fact, they were putting much effort when they realize they are interacting with a human being. They also pointed out that non human entities such as avatars or robots looking like human may reach a point where they result in negative responses from users due to a feeling of uncanny resemblance to human.