The Fake Humans Trying to Blow Up Your Feed 

A virtual influencer is an animated CGI-based character, sometimes human-looking, sometimes not. Whilst they may seem like a new phenomenon, they’ve been around for nearly two decades. The first virtual influencer was Hatsune Miku, a musician, created in 2007 in Japan. She’s released multiple original albums and has been featured in ads for many brands.  

The Fake Humans Trying to Blow Up Your Feed 

To help us better understand this topic, we caught up with Jaraskorn Khongthai, Vero’s Senior Manager for Influencers and Content Creators to hear her views on 2021’s AI influencers. 

For Jaraskorn, Thailand’s first virtual influencer is a novelty – albeit a nicely executed one. She notes that some virtual influencers are succeeding in Thailand already, including a Japanese “V-influencer” focused on gaming. But Jaraskorn believes that this is in no way a game-changing event for media in Thailand. She notes that any virtual influencer will require sustained, high-level efforts to succeed. But regardless, she is eager to observe how this pans out. 

The Fake Humans Trying to Blow Up Your Feed 

Below is a transcript of a conversation with Jaraskorn about virtual influencers in Thailand today.    

What is a virtual influencer for those not in the know?  

Basically, it’s a fabricated character that looks human – as much as that’s possible. Sometimes there’s a bit of a sci-fi edge to them. They are characters who have a story that is created by the person who designed them. Like an author. Sometimes virtual influencers are people or a person, but sometimes they go beyond the human world into sci-fi or fantasy. It’s really at the will of the creator.  

What are your initial thoughts on the announcement of AI Ailyn?  

It seems like a bandwagon move for Thailand because no one here has done this before. Thailand has a lot of popular Vtubers like Aisha, who has reached new heights of popularity in Thailand. Created by the Polygon Project, these characters are partially Thai combined with fantasy elements, but most virtual influencers are only famous in the gaming industry where it’s based on ‘live’ interactions for their main content. The AI Ailyn will be more like a novelty character with one-way storytelling if they don’t manage the interactions with fans enough to build engagement and momentum for the audience to stick around. So, this announcement feels like a PR stunt to represent a growing trend in Thailand. They want to say ‘Ok we’re here, we have this ready to be explored in Thailand as well.’ With that said, it’s a creative move to do this and the launch generated a lot of positive attention not just for virtual influencers but for the creators and the influencer marketing industry. The big question is how to sustain the momentum. That will be their challenge. 

So, you don’t think that virtual influencers will become more popular in South East Asia over time?  

In terms of popularity, I don’t think the fact that a virtual influencer exists, means that they will be popular. For example, popular Thai Vtubers have been around for a few years but none of them have made it to 1M subscribers (yet). It’s all based on the creator and the content that’s provided – how do they use the character, what’s the story? How does the public connect to them? From what I see I don’t find enough relatable content from virtual influencers besides for entertainment that much, so it’s hard to go on mass or find a bigger audience without a proper strategy and story/engagement building.  

The Fake Humans Trying to Blow Up Your Feed 

Over the past year what we’ve seen is a surge in popularity for ‘authentic’ content. Does that conflict with virtual influencers?   

Virtual influencers for me, are fictional characters. It’s not a conflict but more of an alternative for the audience. There are popular fictional characters. So, for example, if Harry Potter had a social media account, he would be popular, his fans would want to follow him, and see what he eats today. Harry Potter using Instagram or Tik Tok would be very interesting and easily gain popularity. But we all know that Harry Potter is a fictional character, right?   

There are plots and stories behind characters that would make that character popular or not. But the AI Ailyn was made from 0. Nobody has heard of her before, nobody knows anything about her, or feels a connection between them and this character, there’s no story yet. The success of a virtual influencer all depends on the creator’s vision and the team effort behind them.   

Virtual influencers have been used by many brands, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton and Porsche but do you think they have any effect on the sales of products?  

I don’t think so. It’s mainly about branding or a key message that a brand would like to say. It’s like a mascot, every brand needs a logo, but they don’t need a mascot. Every brand uses influencers or KOL’s, but they don’t need virtual influencers unless it’s in between a certain gap area that the brand needs to fill in – like an event that a real influencer couldn’t be at or a key message that real people couldn’t say. Some sort of criteria that the brand can’t find someone to fit into, for this sort of thing the virtual influencer is perfect. It means there are possibilities for the brand to gain full control of its sponsored content.   

For example, in 2020, brands weren’t able to send products to influencers to unbox because of the pandemic, but you could easily have a virtual influencer doing this instead.   

What do you think the pros and cons are for this sort of influencer activity? Specifically for the brands who invest in virtual influencers?   

Well, these characters are here to serve a purpose. So, because they are virtual you have total control. You can make them fit into any demographic, you can make them have any criteria that the client wants. But these characters are not made to serve one brand, they are made to be individuals of their own. So, a pro, in this case, is the freshness, and the fact that they are not common. Instead of watching 10 influencers saying the same thing about a product you put the new product to the virtual influencers, and people are curious to see how they will portray it, but it’s a gimmick for branding. Without a proper strategy, it will only work the first time. When you use them repetitively, it becomes predictable like many sponsored posts out there. It’s all down to the innovation of the creator to decide how to keep their characters fresh and interesting.   

Another pro is that virtual influencers are professional from the start when real influencers have more limitations, and they have to build their content up from zero. Most KOLs are accepting sponsored posts to make a living alongside their personal lives. They have children or pets, or parents to take care of. It’s a job. You have to sacrifice something personal at some point to be a KOL, blogger, or YouTuber, you have to work hard to put yourself out there and do creative storytelling. Being human, it’s hard to stick to the same schedule or be disciplined all the time. Not everyone can make a living as an influencer. But virtual influencers can have a dedicated life with a solid schedule, they don’t have any distractions. The professional team behind these virtual influencers will do their best to meet the audience and market standard. There’s only engagement momentum-wise that the brands need to plan and keep an eye on to make a successful campaign. It won’t be a one-off-post success like sponsoring a celebrity and expecting to go viral every time or have huge numbers returned from it. won’t disappoint you. They will always be there.   

This month’s Facebook leak brought up a prominent issue around social media use and mental health. Do you think there’s a chance that AI influencers can worsen negative mental health issues?  

It’s equal to a fictional world for people who want to take a break from real life. People who enjoy anime, manga, or novels rather than catch up on political news or social media movements which these days can become too much information to understand. You can just follow a character and enjoy pure entertainment from them with no negative mindset from the AI influencers. From what I can see the people who enjoy the entertainment of virtual influencers are the same people who enjoy anime, or science fiction. I think it’s possible that it can be a positive thing because you know that they’re not real. No need to think much about their content if it’s real or not. It takes away the pressure to look at real-life people’s portrayal on social media and compare them to yourself in a certain way or to be super successful. If you stick to the virtual side, there’s less pressure in your real life!  

The Fake Humans Trying to Blow Up Your Feed 

What do you think the future of virtual influencers is for digital marketing?  

Like I said before, every brand needs a logo but not every brand needs a mascot. It’s good to have but it’s not a must-have. I don’t think it will be on the rise in terms of numbers or quantities, but the ones that do exist will need to show their qualities to make them more popular. For the AI Ailyn, it’s still in the incubation stage for Thailand virtual influencers.