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Virtual Influencers: The New Normal or a Dystopian Future?

Virtual Influencers: The New Normal or a Dystopian Future?




Living in the digital age, we’re constantly bombarded with new technology: some good, some bad, and some better not spoken of. 

Every day there’s seemingly a new topic to keep up with; Jeffrey Bezos sending himself to space on a Tuesday. IOS15. And the Metaverse, which a month ago sounded more like the home of a Marvel villain than our digital future. But alas, a new day calls for a new trend. 

Enter: Virtual influencers, the latest shiny new toy in the digital world. Kardashians, you’re doing great, sweetie, but there are new kids on the block, and they’re coming for your jobs. Well, maybe. If you’re entirely unaware of what a virtual influencer actually is, they do what they say on the tin. They’re computer-generated ‘people’ who have realistic personalities and the characteristics of humans. 

We decided to look into what virtual influencers are and their pros and cons.

What are Virtual Influencers?

Virtual influencers first came onto the scene in 2016 when Lil Miquela made her debut on Instagram. After months of speculation floating across social media, who is she? What has she been created for? A social experiment or a vague marketing stunt from Sims? The rumours were put to bed, and you guessed it… Advertising was the big secret. 

Virtual Influencer Lil Miquela, is a 19-year-old half-Brazilian, half-American avatar, boasting an impressive 3.1 million followers and counting - even making her way to TIME Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet list. And, just like the celebrity influencers whose footprints she’s followed in, she’s part of an “IT crowd” of other virtually created personalities. According to, a site that tracks the news on virtual humans, there are currently 150 virtual personalities present across social media.

These virtual influencers all have one thing in common: they’ve been created with the sole purpose of promoting brand endorsement and products across Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. Everyone from Calvin Klein and Prada to Samsung and Dermalogica has worked alongside them - producing high-grossing, futuristic campaigns, and they’ve even brushed shoulders with celebrities such as Bella Hadid.

In 2017, Shudu (@shudu.gram) made headlines and caught the attention of fashion houses worldwide as the world’s first digital supermodel. After a photoshoot with Fenty Beauty, the internet erupted, questioning if the model was real or fake because of her likeness. 

The Benefits of a Virtual Influence

In today’s society, 17% of companies will devote more than half of their annual budgets to influencer marketing, making it a fundamental part of their marketing strategy. When it comes to virtual influencers (V.I), it’s very easy to get into tinfoil hat and “the robots are taking over” mode. However, there are positive sides to the emerging marketing trend. 

They’re completely controllable

One obvious benefit to virtual influencers is that you have complete control over their image. You’re able to curate their whole image, from looks to personality and even their values. They lack the unpredictability that human influencers possess, which means they’re more likely to escape the grasp of modern-day cancel culture and media scandals. 

They’re reliable

In a Covid-orientated world, virtual influencers are exempt from physical or technical limitations. There’s an eliminated cause for concern when it comes to making sure campaigns run smoothly and on time as no external factors affect them. 

They’re extremely cost-efficient

There’s less worry about sourcing relevant influencers. Companies and brands will dedicate a significant amount of time, souring influencers who are best tailored to their audience and marketing concept. With virtual influencers, you can quite literally create your ‘dream endorsement’ without having to compromise on any aspect. Surprisingly, they also cost less than celebrity influencers; for example, Lil Miquela charges around $8,000 per Instagram post. A lot less than well-known influencers such as the Kardashian’s.

The Downside to the World of Virtual Influencers

With all advancements in technology, there are always downfalls. Since their creation, the ethical concerns of virtual influencers have been heavily questioned. A “robot” promoting food and skincare products doesn’t exactly scream trustworthy. Likewise with clothing - trusting the fit and feel of clothes is impossible when the model has been virtually created. Regular influencers are no strangers to being called out over their authenticity these days, and this is only heightened in the virtual world. 

Another heavy criticism is the idea of virtual influencers representing an extreme and idealised appearance across social media with their beauty standards and lifestyle. With trends coming and going every 5 minutes in the digital world, virtual influencers potentially lack longevity. With the Metaverse on the horizon, avatars and other CGI influencers will become more mainstream - the current select few might lose their originality and appeal over the next few years, and their success could decline.   

Whether you think they’re creepy or cool, virtual influencers have cemented their position in the digital world and help to explore the blurred lines between reality and imagination. 

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