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What do you think of when you hear the term “virtual being”? Admittedly, this very well could be your first time hearing the phrase. Does it conjure memories of Max Headroom, that time the internet was bewildered by the Instagram influencer, Lil Miquela, or Travis Scott’s in-game Fortnite concert?
Virtual beings are an evolving phenomenon comprised of digitally-based characters that are capable of creating experiences through interaction with their terrestrial counterparts, often giving artificial intelligence a face. These avatars have applications in categories ranging from video games to beauty.
Overseas in Japan, virtual influencers have already made a name for themselves, however, the methodology is somewhat different. Virtual influencers like J-pop sensation, Liam Nikuro and the pink-haired Imma exist as a live-action body with a 3D head imposed over the character’s true likeness. Imma has done major activations with brands like Porsche and Diesel Art Gallery.
Not long after Lil Miquela provided a proof of concept for the space and how successful it could be with her now 3 million followers on Instagram, former fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson developed the first virtual supermodel named Shudu.
I believe we’re just scratching the surface of the use cases for virtual beings. Imagine virtual beings of the hottest musicians hosting listening parties for their new albums sitting next to you while you listen via augmented reality. Imagine interacting via avatar with your favorite athletes in the locker room before a game.
With the world still in the throes of a pandemic and the increasing commodification of digital goods as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) making headlines with high-dollar transactions, the conditions are ripe for:
1. A more accessible way for brands to build influencer relationships.
2. New ways for influencers to connect with their audience.
3. Highly customizable experiences.
4. Enhanced scalability.
The applications and customizations are endless, which is why venture funds have poured over $300 million into virtual being-related companies. But I haven’t quite explained how that applies to your business yet.
Here’s What Happened When We Tried It
Recently, my agency ran two sets of influencers side by side in an experimental campaign for a virtual veterinary service, Airvet. The goal was to see which set of influencers would garner more engagement, the traditional or the virtual beings from Genies, with its 3D avatars (which expanded with avatar wearable NFTs). Our teams pit a set of celebrity virtual being influencers up against a set of pet influencers (for obvious reasons).
We hammered out a number of criteria to choose our influencer groups. The most important indicators were if they were either a pet owner or operated a pet account with a reach that met our threshold and various audience metrics, which helped us determine their fit for the campaign. We developed digital content in the form of images, videos and animations that we ran side by side in organic social media, paid media and app campaigns.
After one month of running both influencer campaigns, the virtual vet service garnered over half a million total impressions, increasing the average daily visitors to its website by nearly four times. It’s difficult to make a 1-to-1 comparison between these two cohorts, but we can draw a few conclusions from running these campaigns side by side. The raw numbers show the efficiency and efficacy of working with influencers and virtual influencers to boost brand awareness and user engagement.
Based on my experience with a virtual influencer campaign, there are some important and essential factors brand and marketing leaders need to consider when creating such a campaign.
1. Even though the influencer is a virtual being, they have a personal brand. In a medium where activations have never been more customizable, authenticity is still key.
2. Consider the audience you’re trying to reach. Virtual influencers can produce highly engaging campaigns comparable (and sometimes even surpassing) traditional influencer relationships.
3. Digital influencers can create interest and brand awareness for top-of-funnel campaigns. Use benchmarks from traditional influencer campaigns you’ve run to test the efficacy of your brand.
4. Build a narrative. Whether it’s subtle or in your face, you have the opportunity to tell a story in a unique way (your way) and you should take advantage of that.
5. Keep the limitations in mind. For now, virtual influencers primarily appear on screens, so they naturally don’t have real-world connections beyond user engagement. However, you can develop the virtual world around them.
Virtual influencers have the potential to be a cost-effective alternative to working with IRL influencers, giving brands an opportunity to customize campaigns that leverage top-tier talent that most wouldn’t necessarily have had access to without spending big bucks. Keep these elements in mind when crafting a virtual influencer campaign to ensure you’re hitting on the market nuances.