Virtual influencers can shape client conversation more effectively than traditional influencer marketing strategies, but is it a safe option?

It is definitely easier to shape the conversation with virtual influencers, creating a strong brand image. But, the risks don’t necessarily outweigh the rewards as their creators are often anonymous and would have no fears starting again with a new personality. Over the past year, an army of virtual influencers has risen to global fame much faster than human counterparts.

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The best example of this new tribe is 19-year-old Brazilian-American model Miquela Sousa, commonly identified by the moniker, Lil Miquela. Miquela has gathered 1.5 million followers in her short career, working with top brands like Prada, Chanel, and Samsung. All the virtual influencers have rapidly growing audiences and a legion of B2C and B2B brands wanting to work with them. Though this marketing concept is more appropriate for B2C brands, the innovative B2B brands are also willing to give it a try to win over the competition.

Using virtual personas within brand partnerships is not a new concept. The 1990s saw Jamie Hewlett’s and Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz engage in brand collaborations with G-Shock, Converse, and Microsoft to coincide with their commercial and critical success. It is not surprising to see Microsoft as one of the names looking forward to virtual influencer marketing, as top B2B and B2C brands are excited to use this innovative marketing tactic.

Virtual influencer marketing gained mass popularity with Coca-Cola signing EA Sports’ Fifa 18’s video game character Alex Hunter as one of their celebrity ambassadors. By associating with virtual influencers, brands can openly be inauthentic in an ironic way with a message controlled entirely by themselves.

However, the creation of personas having a direct purpose of promoting brands illustrates a new movement emerging in the influencer marketing landscape. This explains why several brands have been quick to engage with this new breed of virtual influencers. With the dynamic nature of the market, the audience is always looking for something innovative to grab their attention, and virtual influencers do precisely that.

For brands, virtual influencers provide a safer trajectory for working with talent, as the potential risks associated with their human counterparts are lower within the virtual world. The risk of adverse or unpredictable human behavior is mitigated with virtual influencers.

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But, it is not as simple as it seems,   influencer marketing can also prove highly problematic for some brands. When negotiating with talent, businesses often need to compromise on their content to satisfy the content creator’s values and their sense of brand protection. The recent rise in consumer skepticism for the industry makes it even worse.

Whether virtual influencers are safer is still questionable. No matter how predictable and reliable a virtual influencer is, it’s ultimately an often-anonymous human creating the content and building the persona.

And since the human content creator is incognito, they can easily construct an entirely new persona with ease. In the case of reputation damaged, brands will end up questioning if virtual influencers pose even more potential risk than their human counterparts. The flaw in the use of virtual personas is the complete contradiction of this key value of influencer marketing – creating authentic content between brand and influencer.

A recent survey by Influencer Intelligence revealed that 61% of consumers agree that relatable content is the primary appeal of social media influencers. It proves challenging to imagine how consumers can relate to and be persuaded to buy the messaging from a digital, fictitious character. The authenticity debate clearly demonstrates the flaw in the virtual influencers proving it restrictive. Only time will show if virtual influencers are here to stay in some capacity moving branded content into a new direction.

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