Brand mascots have been around for ages – take the iconic Michelin man who’s been around for 125 years. They are still popular because they provide a way to humanise a brand to better connect with consumers. Just think of the endearing Hippo.co.za mascot or Chappies the Chipmunk. But in the age of AI and social media, modern brand mascots can be found online in the form of virtual influencers.
These digital personalities are computer-generated fictional characters that are mainly used for marketing-related purposes as they provide the best of both brand mascot strategies and social media influencer marketing. Even South Africa is getting in on the action with Kim Zulu, who has been making waves since 2020 with her unique and captivating content.
And it’s not hard to see the appeal of these digital actors: Virtual influencers are cheaper to create and maintain compared to human influencers, who may demand increasing fees for their services. They are also much better at portraying a consistent image and tone across platforms, unlike human influencers, who may change their approach over time.
Customising a virtual influencer to match brand aesthetics and marketing goals is a breeze. (Just take @bee_nfluencer and Any Malu, for example.) Additionally, virtual influencers can be scaled with ease and can be programmed to speak multiple languages, making them more accessible to a wider audience.
And seeing that influencer marketing is highly content driven, one of the biggest benefits is probably the ability to create unique content around the clock. By leveraging virtual influencers, brands can generate innovative, attention-grabbing content that resonates with their target audiences.
Some brands choose to create their own custom online ambassadors, whilst others tap into the vast audiences of the most acclaimed virtual personas, like Miquela (with almost 3 million followers on Instagram) and noonoouri.
However, the rise of virtual influencers is not without controversy. Critics argue that virtual influencers promote unrealistic beauty standards and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Others worry that virtual influencers could potentially replace human influencers and lead to widespread job loss.
Despite these concerns, the trend of virtual influencers shows no signs of slowing down. As technology continues to advance, we will likely see more and more virtual influencers pop up on our social media feeds. So, are you ready to join the virtual influencer revolution? It’s a brave new world out there, and the opportunities are endless!