Many traditional marketing approaches slowly die in the face of the modern sophisticated audience. Many companies no longer wonder who is their targeted audience and how they could sell to it because dictating consumer preferences is no longer effective. Instead, brands are looking for dynamic engagement.
Sometimes, new methods of marketing are so innovative and unusual that it gets hard to believe they actually exist and, moreover, they are effective. According to the 2018 Sprout Social Index, most marketers realize that extended reach through influencers is a method that can help them get much better results than traditional forms of advertising. Such a tendency is apparent not only in the food and beauty industries but in healthcare and finances as well. Moreover, the fast development of AI and CGI technologies allows companies to create their own virtual influencers.
Main Trends of Brand Marketing
Contemporary brands don’t want to develop products in the information vacuum. Instead, they want to know as much as they can about the interests of their potential consumers so that they can effectively fulfill their demands. On one hand, this approach is beneficial for the brand. On the other hand, it’s also beneficial for consumers, as they get exactly what they want. Such a win-win situation can be easily illustrated by the influence of customer retention on profits: a 5% increase in customer retention increases sales by at least 25%. In addition, engaged and loyal customers will likely recommend their favorite brand to their friends.
The age of social media has already demonstrated that people want to express their opinions about products and services publicly. Tara Elders, a creative marketing director at College Writers, notes: “People don’t want to wait until developers offer something worth buying, they want to participate in a conversation and impact the process of product development. In turn, companies have a great opportunity to show how important consumers are for them. Instead of distracting people with annoying pop-ups and other static means of marketing, brands search for dynamic engagement. This is where influencers come in handy.” According to statistics, most millennials make their purchasing decisions based on recommendations from influencers. Thus, there’s no surprise that the understanding of influencers as we know it evolves and expands.
Why Do Brands Create Virtual Influencers?
Even though influencers are effective, sometimes they can be erratic. Sometimes they can do weird things which lead to negative PR and losses for brands. Fortunately, CGI gives brands an opportunity to work with influencers who will always play by rules — virtual influencers. Still far from replacing the Kardashians, virtual influencers are already popular, endorsing famous brands and making controversial headlines.
Meet Lil Miquela — a CGI and AI-based character. She’s an influencer with 1.5 million Instagram followers. Miquela is a typical influencer in everything. She’s a model and a musician (here’s a link to her Spotify account). She promotes diversity and equality and supports Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Just like any celebrity, Miquela lives her best life, posing in outfits from Chanel and Prada, and giving interviews. She likes to write inspiring posts about her life, and she’s not alone. Here is her best friend, Blawko — another “robot” who likes skating and prefers healthy snacks.
Blawko can often be seen on photos with his ex-girlfriend, Bermuda. They used to be together, but recently they broke up, and now Blawko spends more time with Miquela. Miquela and Bermuda can hardly be called friends — unlike Miquela, Bermuda supports Trump, and she even hacked Miquela’s account once. However, recently they had a dinner together. As you can see, virtual influencers are no different from the real ones — their creators not only put a lot of effort into making them look real but also do everything to entertain followers with dramas.
This is another virtual influencer — Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel that promotes lipsticks from Rihanna and jewelry from Tiffany. She also poses for Vogue. Not only has Shudu quickly became a famous virtual character, but she also became a reason for a real-life scandal. Some activists pointed out that she was created by a white male designer who exploits the image of an African American woman without paying any money to any black women.
On one hand, virtual influencers are certainly beneficial for brands, because real celebrities are greedy. For example, one post in David Beckham’s Instagram costs about $230,000, while Kylie Jenner earns $1 million per post. Virtual influencers are much cheaper, and they are easy to work with — you can place a virtual character at any place in the world and dress it in any clothes, making it look exactly how you need. However, the story about Shudu and her creator demonstrates that even virtual characters are not scandal-resistant. Virtual influencers are still far from replacing people in social media marketing because there are many legal and business issues to consider.
First, the question of intellectual property still remains unclear. These influencers are products that represent ideas and other products. Thus, brands and creators should decide who owns these products, and who is a subject to any legal issues. In addition, moral clauses are still included in various contracts, and they may apply to the creator as well as to the character. Contracts should address such issues as authenticity, reputation, appropriation, and tarnishment. It’s also important to realize that any events that involve the character can affect the creator. Thus, the issue of anonymity also becomes important.
Virtual influencers are real. They attract subscribers and promote brands. Moreover, they represent certain values and can entertain followers with stories about their relationships. Even though virtual influencers are something completely new, it looks like they will not disappear in the nearest future. They cost less and they can be easily tailored to the needs of any particular brand. In addition, people get used to bots in their everyday lives, talking to digital assistants and chatbots. Perhaps, soon any brand will be able to create a complete representation of its ideas and lifestyle — a virtual persona which not only endorses brand but is brand itself.