Your favourite social media influencer is a picture of beauty, elegance and grace. She eats at fabulous restaurants and flaunts clothes from top-tier brands. With a million followers on Instagram, she hangs out with your favourite celebrities. Also: she’s not real.
Almost as old as social media itself, the influencer wave has taken over the digital space. Big and small brands have capitalised on these ‘individuals’, who boast thousands of followers. Every market — fashion, food, travel, comedy — has to its name social media influencers, who bring them significant business. The same influencer wave is now making way for a new, interesting trend: that of virtual influencers. With artificial intelligence and 3D imaging in play, these are digital personalities that emulate humanistic characteristics. These influencers are given an ethnic background, likes and dislikes, as well as social beliefs. The influencer is sandpapered to bring out the most important element of this business: relatibility.
Lil Miquela is a Brazilian-American influencer, with over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. She flaunts top brands like Prada and beckons millions of streams for her music on Spotify. Only a virtual character, Lil Miquela is far ahead of many social media influencers you might follow. Yet, one wonders how effective this trend really is. Vishal Fernandes, a lifestyle and travel influencer, doubts that it will last. “The audience finds a direct connect with an influencer, and follows him or her,” he shares. “If this trend continues, eventually people will realise that they cannot identify with a robot.”
Virtual reality is no new concept. Technology has spun the binaries into many a virtual personality — from Pokemon to Siri. A virtual influencer, however, steps out of the screen and into our real lives in a much more tangible way. The ability to customise an influencer to a consumer’s appeal brings brands the big bucks.
“It will definitely blow up,” says Rhea Fernandes, who is an avid consumer of the social media space. “Influencers have a lot of impact today, and working with digital characters allows companies much more feasibility with fewer restrictions.” In fact, from a technology perspective, it seems to be the first step of a virtual movement. Archit Agarwal, a food and travel influencer, points out how it’s changing the influencer market. “I love how technology is changing the way we consume content. Virtual influencers seem to be the natural next step from how we interact with Siri or Alexa,” he shares.
While these personalities present an evolved intersection of technology and marketing, you can’t help but question the authenticity of it all. An influencer promotes brands that he trusts — but for his virtual counterpart, there is no word to count on. Shubhra Shukla, an active consumer of Instagram, believes that this puts real influencers on the backburner. “There are people who put a lot of effort into this. We should support them instead.”
The Indian market, perhaps, isn’t ready for a trend like this. “The Indian consumer is about an emotional connect,” points out Vishal. “He isn’t likely to warm up to a virtual influencer, who cannot relate to.” In the end, it also boils down to whether it’s economically viable. “A trend of this scale will take time before it’s cost-efficient for brands to spend money on,” Archit sums up.