Luca Matteo Barbers is an expert Digital Marketing and Social Media consultant and in his career he has worked with important companies and VIPs. With this article, considerations are made on the evolution of influencer marketing with the advent of avatars

Remo, Remo, Italy, 8th May 2023, King NewsWireLuca Matteo Barberis is an expert Digital Marketing and Social Media consultant and in his career he has worked with important companies and VIPs. With this article, considerations are made on the evolution of influencer marketing with the advent of avatars

Like the evolution of fashion as a whole, influencers have also been evolving alongside the industry’s increasing digitalisation, seeing the concept of ‘virtual influencers’ become something of a norm in the marketing world. But who are these mysterious beings and what about them is making retailers fall head over heels to work with them?

A ‘virtual influencer’ can be defined as a computer-generated, fictional individual which is most often used for marketing purposes, especially social media-based strategies. They can range from independently created avatars to official brand personalities, representing a company in various aspects of the digital world.

There are famous virtual influencer include Gen Z-targeted social media influencer Lil Miquela, who boasts 2.9 million Instagram followers, and Brazil’s Lu do Magalu, who counts a staggering 6.1 million followers. Both these virtual people have worked with a variety of brands, namely Prada and Dior, however, their distinct dissimilarity to the typical influencer is that they are created by advanced tech companies.

Brands themselves have also begun to get in on developing their own virtual influencers to represent them throughout their marketing with the objective to connect with a younger audience by building a new technology-focused community. It followed a similar initiative by luxury fashion group LVMH, which introduced Livi, its virtual ambassador, who was unveiled during the LVMH Innovation Award ceremony.

This strategy can allows a brand to connect with a Gen Z audience that may be more familiar with the use of avatars and digital engagement that can be used in all sectors such as marketing, fashion, gaming and film. In fact, according to a recent study carried out by virtual world platform Roblox, around 42 percent of digital world users value expressing themselves digitally just as much as doing so in the real world.

Much of Metaverse’s existence is also based around transforming real life celebrities, influencers and models into digital avatars, bringing them to life virtually so they can interact with users online. With this we can preserve their beauty and, once they have been digitised, they can be used for a longer period of time. In the case of the pandemic, or when they are sick, we can use their likeness and still work with them through licensing.

A similar mindset was taken on by the purely digital fashion brand House of Blueberry, which recently launched a virtual clothing collection alongside real life influencer Leah Ashe. However, to promote the collection, Ashe appeared to consumers as a virtual version of herself, and donned each of the collection’s looks during a digital party in the open world gaming platform Roblox. Each of the garments could be purchased by users to then be worn by their own avatars, allowing a new avenue of engagement for both Blueberry and Ashe herself.

In a world where avatar social networks and pseudonymous avatar personalities reign thanks to technology dropping the barrier to entry, some of these personas will be more influential than others. And so, in this future, the idea of a virtual influencer will be massively normalised and start to look a lot like the human influencers we follow today.

The recent collaboration between Depop and The Sims feels like a peek into what social media could look like with the development of web3 and the metaverse. Avatars find their origin in gaming, and across social media we tend to use photos of ourselves as our avatars – a visual representation of ourselves digitally. The web3 space will enhance current social media platforms and allow us to engage in a more interactive and meaningful way, allowing us to create 3D representations of ourselves, whether based on our physical likeness or a more creative representation that visualizes aspects of our personality we may not show in real-life.

This shift 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.

For many, the metaverse might seem like some dystopian future similar to Ready Player One where we live out the rest of our days in the realm of virtual reality. The truth is that the metaverse is well and truly upon us, from healthcare to fashion. Most industries are making the transition over.

The fashion industry has already made its mark on the metaverse, with daring brands hosting their own fashion shows. Many of the major fashion houses joined Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) last March in Decentraland.

With brands increasingly using virtual fashion shows and influencers, digital wearables in the form of NFTs will become increasingly significant too.

Some of these have real-life identical pieces that the NFT can be traded for. Others are one-off digital wearables. They can potentially provide access to specific events, like gated after shows or front-row seats.

In the future models and influencers may receive high-value NFTs, rather than traditional gifted items like clothes and makeup.

Ultimately this will only occur when the metaverse becomes more normalised within society and is easily accessible by the masses. In the meantime, we’ve seen brands like Roksanda launch an AR function. It allows consumers to virtually try on an NFT outfit via an Instagram filter. This merges traditional social media with the potentiality of the metaverse. Social media allows traditional influencers to share this with their following. It gives the consumer access whilst maintaining exclusivity.

Many of the major fashion brands are purchasing permanent space in the metaverse to use as shopping outlets or other event spaces.

Will the consumer trust a virtual influencer? The engagement rate on a virtual influencer is said to be three times higher than that of a real influencer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is more likely to buy a product as a direct result of seeing it on a virtual influencer. But it does suggest that the public are open to seeing products through this medium.

Authentic influencing on social media is questionable. With many influencers editing photos to the nth degree, it’s impossible to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. Is creating a virtual influencer that far removed?

There are concerns, though, that by moving away from real people, brands will undermine the key aspects that make influencer marketing so powerful – relatability. The most successful influencers are the ones who have stories, and flaws.

Of course, there are some influencers that say whatever they’re paid to say. While this may fast-track brand growth and visibility, it doesn’t mean that anyone genuinely trusts your opinion.

Whilst the audience may share the same opinions and outlooks as computer-generated influencers, will they trust them? The effectiveness of influencer marketing in the metaverse will rely on the extent to which the consumer relates to the avatar.

We’ve already seen some of the biggest names in fashion snap up front-row MVFW seats in a bid to solidify their presence in the industry within these new parameters. It’s very much a case of transition over or getting left behind.

Collaborations between brands and influencers often take the shape of sponsored social media posts, gifting products and social media takeovers. While these strategies are an effective way for a brand to establish a presence with an influencer’s following, they do not guarantee audience engagement. Within the metaverse, influencers can collaborate with brands to create fully immersive 3D experiences. For example, alongside posting a workout video in a brand’s athleticwear, an influencer can invite their following to join a virtual workout in the metaverse. This kind of collaboration also increases marketing efficiency by channeling promotional efforts to an influencer’s most active followers.

With virtual influencers proving popular, it’ll be up to real-life influencers to prove their worth, and for the consumer to carve an image of how they want to be influenced.

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