For the better part of a decade, brands have partnered with social media influencers to reach their target audiences at increasing rates. In the last three years, the influencer marketing market size has grown from $6.5 billion in 2019 to $13.8 billion in 2021. Brands have found that endorsements and product mentions from influencers help create excitement, drive engagement and increase sales.
Working with influencers is especially advantageous because brands can identify influencers with followings similar to their target audiences. Brands can then advertise directly to their target audience through an influencer the audience trusts, admires and feels a connection with. Campaign performance is then easily measured and tracked through engagement and affiliate links.
But working with social media influencers has its complications. Like the rest of us, they are only human. They get sick, have emergencies and can get wrapped up in controversy which reflects poorly on the brands they partner with.
Creators like Cameron-James Wilson, Trevor McFedries and Sidus Studio X have set out to solve these human problems by creating virtual influencers. They don’t need to take time off and never become involved in controversy. Virtual influencers don’t even have time-space limitations.
Take Rozy for example. Not only does the virtual influencer never get sick or have personal issues, but she also is not limited to time and space the way humans are. She doesn’t need to sleep, so she can continue to create and post at all hours. She can do unlimited traveling because location and scenes can be edited. Rozy could be in Dubai one minute and in Los Angeles the next! These abilities are especially helpful during the prolonged pandemic when travel restrictions are constantly changing. Rozy doesn’t age either — she will remain 22 years old forever.
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Brands find these features and increased controls intriguing, which is why Rozy has landed over 100 sponsorships. And Rozy’s not the only one. Lil Miquela is a model who has worked with Calvin Klein, Prada and other reputable fashion brands and debuted a music video at 2020’s online-only Lollapalooza festival. Between Lil Miquela’s modeling and influencer posts, the virtual influencer earned over $11 million dollars last year.
The accomplishments of these new types of influencers are fascinating, but what I find most interesting about virtual influencers is that they actually go against the foundation of influencer marketing. Until recently, influencers were thought to be “normal” people promoting products to other “normal” people. The relationship between the influencer and influencee was built on trust, admiration and connection, but how connected can we truly feel to virtual influencers?
Though we may not have the same connection we might feel towards human influencers, it doesn’t mean that followers won’t be as interested in the brands they are promoting, but a larger audience is necessary to make up for the lack of personal connection.
What can we expect?
Due to the high growth rate of influencer marketing market size, we can only expect continued growth in the virtual influencer space. The flexibility, security and reach provided by virtual influencers will continue to be a major draw for brands looking to establish partnerships.
It is also possible for brands to begin creating their own virtual models and influencers. Brands could even use those influencers to curate relationships with other brands for collaborations.
But what does this mean for normal, human influencers? While people find virtual influencers amusing and intriguing, a complete takeover of the industry is unlikely. The influencer marketing pie keeps growing, and slices are virtually unlimited.