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!