The web3 space will enhance current social media platforms and allow us to engage in a more interactive and meaningful way. This will allow us to create 3D representations of ourselves, whether based on our physical likeness or a more creative representation that visualises aspects of our personality we may not show in real-life. Bring in the virtual influencer!
This shift – which can be witnessed in the latest campaign between Depop and The Sims – will undoubtedly give way to different forms of influencing. Whether it’s brands creating their own avatars to act as community facilitators, or marketing agencies creating their own avatar influencers, influencer marketing will evolve massively.
Regarding the near future, however, the metaverse isn’t developed yet. Nevertheless, there are certain signs of life that give us a glimpse into its potential. Take Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) for example: the event was hosted in Decentraland and featured virtual influencers modelling digital wearables by some of the biggest names in luxury fashion. These digital wearables were then shoppable as an item via NFT and could be worn on your avatar, some of which also had a physical twin. Seats to a digital front row could be purchased for some events, and with celebrity avatars and fashion journalists taking up seats, there was very much the idea of being seen.
The arrival of the metaverse will allow avatars to establish their digital presence and build on their reputation. It will also allow people to engage with brands in a more interactive way.
It would be hard to have a conversation about virtual influencers without mentioning Miquela Sousa/Lil Miquela. Arguably the most popular virtual influencer, Miquela was created by LA-based tech startup Brud and is managed by PR firm, Huxley. She is a musician, change seeker, and style visionary, and was named in TIME magazine as one of the ‘25 most influential people on the internet.’ The depth of her character is human-like, garnering her endless media attention and opportunities. These include interviewing J Balvin at Coachella, modelling for Prada, and getting millions of streams on Spotify for her music according to virtualhumans.org.
Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) is another Brud creation that has advertised for Chanel, Balenciaga, Tesla, and Starbucks on her Instagram. She used to be in a relationship with Blawko22 and sparked controversy for hacking Lil Miquela’s Instagram and for her political views and support for Trump, which she has recently changed. While stunts like these are often staged to garner attention, it does also raise the question of what we will look for in the next generation of virtual influencers, will these be carefully controlled and brand-owned, a safe bet in the era of cancel culture, or are we likely to see more ‘human’ avatars, that make mistakes or have conflicting views but deal with them appropriately? Arguably, a more human approach makes the virtual influencer more ‘relatable’ and headline worthy.
It must be noted that brand partnerships with virtual influencers isn’t a new concept at all. The influencers can be used as a complete visual representation of a brand and its values and are also under the brand’s control. This can also be a way for the brand to comment on social and political issues without directly involving the brand, adding new layers to the brand’s image and building rapport with its target audience.
For example, the Yoox Net-a-Porter group launched their virtual influencer Daisy in 2018, she features across multiple brand campaigns, including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. The model exists to promote clothing, engage with other virtual influencers, and spend the majority of her time amongst models and changemakers within the fashion industry.
Many brands launch products with virtual influencers as an attempt to connect with Gen Z – but is that what Gen Z actually want? Brands like Prada have already branded avatars that are completely in line with the brand’s values and image. “Candy” was imagined and brought to life in 2011 and then relaunched this year across print, film, and social media as she interacted with a real-life fragrance bottle designed by Fabien Baron. The key idea behind producing Candy, a computer-generated avatar or ‘virtual muse’, was to make the launch more appealing to a younger audience, in particular Gen Z.
As a member of Gen Z myself, I’m much more inclined to enjoy Prada’s campaign with Emma Watson (a real actress I grew up watching in Harry Potter) to an animated character I have no connection with.
Here is where the confusing disparity comes in. Marketers are often talking about the need for authenticity, nostalgia and connection with Gen Z audience members and yet a virtual avatar often fails to strike any of these chords. It is worth considering.
On the other hand, according to Mintel Consumer Data, nearly half of people who follow social media personalities are interested in following a virtual influencer. We predict that this figure is likely to increase as social media moves into web3 and virtual influencers become more commonplace.
The Sims x Depop collaboration and the idea of Simfluencers simulate how web3 social media could look, with its increased interactivity enabling an almost game-like, escapist experience. There’s particularly potential within the fashion industry where the more mainstream creation of clothes that are digitally wearable will allow avatars to try them on prior to purchasing, particularly where avatars are close recreations of our real-life form. This would allow brands to create a digital in-store experience, where avatars can feel as though they’re in the store through the power of virtual reality (VR).