The rise of a new generation of influencers – a computer generated generation
Virtual influencers are not the result of the current COVID-19 climate; they were trending long before that. However that being said, while humans are quite literally locked up in lockdown, the same limitations cannot be placed on influencers that are computer generated. Imma and Seraphine are two such influencers, but how do they qualify as influencers if they are not human? Imma is Japan’s first virtual model and was created by the company AWW. Like any influencer, Imma’s social media following across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Weibo, Zepeto and Douyin is impressive and substantial. Imma’s online presence is not limited to social media however, as she’s been featured on television, business and fashion magazines and has also collaborated with fashion brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo despite the fact that she is not real.
Christopher Travers, the founder of virtualhumas.org which is a website that tracks and “documents the industry” has determined that even though “virtual influencers, while fake, have real business potential.” The annual expenditure on influencer marketing is set to increase drastically year on year to approximately $15 billion by 2022 in comparison to the $8 billion spent in 2019. Out of the estimated $15 billion, a growing percentage is being taken over by the likes of virtual influencers such as Imma and Seraphine and is said to act as a considerable disruptor to ‘traditional media marketing’. In terms of commonalities, both Imma and Seraphine are well known for their distinctive looks defined by their pink hair – Imma’s stylish short bob and Seraphine’s flowing pink locks as well as the cat content that populates Seraphine’s Instagram posts. According to Travers, some of the greatest perks of using virtual influencers is that “they are cheaper to work with than humans in the long term, are 100% controllable, can appear in many places at once, and, most importantly, they never age or die.”
So, who tops the charts in terms of earnings for virtual influencers and what does that earning potential look like? Well, according to UK based online marketplace, OnBuy, that current title holder is Lil Miquela who is also a virtual ‘model’ and has worked with brands such as Prada and Calvin Klein and is estimated to make her creators and agency approximately $12 million this year. From a generational perspective, it’s interesting to note that Gen-Z are the “main drivers behind this trend” according to research done by McKinsey & Co. “Millennials and Gen Z represent spending power of about $350 billion in the US alone.” With the second wave of COVID-19 already being experienced by most of the world, and the physical limitations that this inevitably imposes, many events, activations and campaigns will need to be revised and rethought – which places virtual influencers in prime position to take over where their human equivalents left off. It will be interesting to see what the influencer landscape looks like post-COVID.