Why Virtual influencers are here to stay
Interview with Dmitry Kornilov, CEO and CO-founder of FFFACE.ME.
Today’s virtual influencers. Lil Miquela kissing with Bella Hadid, Ukrainian influencers report on war in Ukraine and even Gorillaz, all of them are considered as virtual influencers. Let’s find out why virtual influencers are an excellent fit for brands and why they become so popular in an interview with Dmitry Kornilov, CEO and Co-founder of FFFACE.ME.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN PROS OF VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS? WHY DID THEY BECOME SO POPULAR?
Virtual influencers became so popular because they’re original and drawing attention to themselves. Some people love it, and repost them. On the other hand, some people hate them, but still share information as well, just to show their hate. A lot of people were not able to be neutral about virtual influencers, and it’s a key. Most of the audience shows at least some reaction and it helps in organical promotion.
In my opinion the main benefit of virtual influencers for brands is their flexibility. Their total flexibility in terms of fulfilling goals and tasks of the brand. Virtual influencers can’t be sick, they can’t be in a bad mood, and they can’t do technical tasks wrong because they’re under total control. So, for the brand, virtual influencers have two main benefits: first of all, total control, and the second one is that they get more attention. According to recent reports from HypeAuditor, virtual influencers have three times more engagement than real-life influencers with the same size of the audience.
ARE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS A GREAT FIT FOR ANY BRAND? OR ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC BRAND CATEGORIES, LIKE FASHION, BEAUTY, OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT WORK BETTER WITH VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?
I believe that virtual influencers are similar to regular influencers, that means they can work for any category. I can imagine political virtual influencers, or virtual influencers that review some new gadgets and devices, or share some tips on musical playlists. However, we need to acknowledge that in terms of virtual influencers, the visual part is very important. Visual part is something that usually makes a difference. Virtual influencers are more efficient in promoting visual products, like fashion or beauty products. In that case, the product will be in the focus along with other parts of the visual.
THERE ARE MANY COMMUNICATION CHANNELS AND INSTRUMENTS THAT BRANDS CAN USE. WHEN ARE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS THE BEST CHOICE? WHAT ARE THE COMMUNICATION GOALS THAT THEY CAN HELP WITH BEST?
I believe that virtual influencers can work within all communication ecosystems. Virtual influencers can be perceived in two ways: first, is a new anthropomorphic brand media that can own different social networks, and that can work within different social media. And second, is that a virtual influencer can be a brand`s mascot. That is why it can be present in outdoor advertising and in-store, on-trade, and off-trade promotion. So, from my perspective, to sum up, virtual influencers can be a part of the communication on all channels, similar to regular influencers.
I also believe that they can generate both: awareness and conversions, if they engage users in conversions. For example, we can launch a promo with a virtual influencer, where they will be a part of the mood board, or we can launch a promo on Instagram, where they will review the product, and announce the promo which will allow users to receive something in exchange for an action. A virtual influencer can suggest people to watch a video, tap on the link, fill out the form, receive a discount or go to an offline store to make a purchase. In terms of communication goals and communication types, virtual influencers can do pretty much anything real-life influencers can do.
AWESOME. AND WHAT ARE YOUR TOP-3 TIPS FOR BRANDS WHO WANT TO COLLABORATE WITH AN EXISTING VIRTUAL INFLUENCER?
Regarding tips for brands that want to start working with virtual influencers, I would say they can use the same tips that they use with regular influencers. First of all, an influencer should be relevant. The fact that the influencer is virtual is not enough for the communication to be successful. So the story behind this virtual influencer should correspond with the story of the selected communication platform that you’re having with your brand right now.
The second tip: even though it’s a virtual influencer, your communication should still look organic. Giving your product to an influencer, taking a couple of photos, and saying it’s working is not enough. No, you should come up with some story. For example, in terms of our collaboration with a Bird app, an app that helps people to find apartments, we integrated the whole thing into the story of our virtual influencer Astra. When she moved to Ukraine, she was living in a hotel, and at some point, she decided to find a new apartment to rent. So she used the Bird app and she found the apartment and organically showed the whole process of how it happened. Also, we made it even more organic, because before the launch of this communication we made a survey among the Astra subscribers, and we asked them: «Okay, guys, how do you find an apartment nowadays?». And most of the followers answered that it was through the Bird app. So, we made a pre-communication, we showcased the process of using this product, and then we showed the result, which was Astra being in a new beautiful apartment.
Third tip: you have to try to make this partnership long-term. Because a single communication, even with real-life influencers, is not efficient. We all know that it’s not about the number of contacts with the audience, it’s about the quantity of these contacts with each consumer. So, you have to create a long-term plan of how you will work with these virtual influencers during different seasons and occasions.
THANK YOU. AND, PLEASE, TELL US MORE ABOUT CREATING ASTRA STARR, WHAT WAS THE MAIN CHALLENGE OF THE PROCESS?
The main challenge, which, actually is still ongoing, is to find a production pipeline that can be scalable, and that would help to achieve the result that would meet the expectations of the audience. While some part of the audience is okay with virtual influencers looking like real humans, some of them want it to look differently. And different technologies help to achieve different results. For example, in terms of MetaHuman from Unreal, you can receive more lifelike virtual influencers. But at the same time, you’re limited by the number of models of how this virtual influencer can look. You have limited customization opportunities. For the other engines, for example, iClone, you have more customization options, but these virtual influencers don’t look so realistic. Also, it’s always easier to produce photos, it’s harder to produce video content. So, I guess, the main challenge during Astra production was to find this balance between the desired quality of visuals and the resources that we invest into this production.
I want to additionally add that for the virtual influencer`s design this is important. But it’s not crucial. The story and the character are what people follow.
People don’t follow beautiful content, people follow interesting content. And this is the thing that works for both real-life influencers and virtual influencers. For example, let’s look at this character from the music band Gorillaz: at the beginning, they all were in 2D. But still, they were very interesting. We wanted to know the story behind each of them. So it means that it’s not even really important if they’re 2D or 3D. If they look like actual humans or if they’re designed as cartoon characters. Regarding Astra, we keep experimenting. Apart from the software we also use hardware, we have mocap suits to record the body animations. And the software that we use is often updated. For example, today we have a new update of MetaHuman, and we are testing it right now. This is the process that will continue, a process that never stops, searching for the optimal solution. My advice is to think about the story behind the influencer, first. And then think about the design. Also, you need to find the pipeline that will help to create content regularly, because if you’ll need weeks to create one video, the whole thing won’t work.
YEAH, THANK YOU, THOSE WERE AMAZING TIPS. AND THE NEXT QUESTION: SOME BRAND COLLABORATIONS ARE QUITE BORING, SO WE WANT TO GIVE SOME ADVICE TO BRANDS ON HOW THEY CAN MAKE THE COLLABORATIONS WITH AN INTERESTING CONCEPT, WITH A CREATIVE IDEA. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
As I already mentioned before, to make these virtual collaborations interesting, you should make them real, you should add details. I believe people love stories that resonate with them. If the person can relate to a story and say that it happened to them, their friends, or family as well, they will like and share this story. Each story in our lives has a lot of details. Things don’t just happen, they happen because of lots of different factors. So, to make this interesting, you have to do two things: firstly, you need to think through the details. Such as, how your virtual influencer felt before the collaboration happened, how they feel while something is happening, and how they feel after this collaboration has happened. The second thing you should do is to show this story from different angles. You can show this story from the first-person perspective on social media, then you can share the story from the third-person perspective in the press. Then you can show this story in outdoor advertising. In this way, you can create the complete picture. I guess, it’s kinda similar to a movie promotion: we have a teaser, we have a trailer, we have billboards, we have interviews of an actor or a director, we have merch, and all of this makes the story real and interesting.
GREAT, THANK YOU. THERE ARE SOME FEARS OR PRE-CONSTRUCTIONS ABOUT THE AREA OF VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS: SOME WORRY THAT VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS MAY REPLACE HUMAN ONES. SHOULD WE BE SCARED OF THIS?
No, we shouldn’t be scared that virtual influencers will replace people. We can look at this from different angles. First of all, there are still humans behind virtual influencers. So, it’s only about the form of communication. Plus, I still believe that the human touch is what makes communication work. We all have seen some communications, scenarios, and art that were created by artificial intelligence. And yeah, it’s funny, it’s cool to look at, and it’s interesting to read about, but it’s not working. Until artificial intelligence is not developed enough to fully imitate the feelings and thoughts of humans, all regular or real-life influencers are in a safe place. And I believe that this will not be an issue within at least the next five or ten years.
The thing that could scare us is the vanishing of the line between real and virtual influencers. But I don’t see it happening, because even if artificial intelligence is super-smart, it is limited, as it can’t be real. So, virtual influencers are unable to do a lot of physical things, and that is why they will always be different from real-life influencers.
GREAT, THANK YOU. AND FOR THE LAST QUESTION: HOW DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY CHANGING AND DEVELOPING IN THE FUTURE?
I believe that currently, virtual influencers are on trend. But it’s still an emerging marketing technology.
I think one day brands will crack the code of how they work, they will understand that nowadays people follow things that are not necessarily real, but interesting. One day brands will understand that people don’t like bold, straightforward promotions and that people like to follow the stories, brands will learn and will understand how to work with virtual influencers, and virtual influencers will become a mass market trend. It could happen within one year or two years.
The new generation is the generation that plays video games starting from nine years old, the generation that meets their friends in computer games, and the generation that believes virtual characters in the videogame are real. I believe that while this generation grows, virtual influencers will receive more and more engagement. It’s like an intersection between two of these factors: brands have to learn how it works, so the generation that is now kids, who play video games will grow up and become new consumers. So when these two things meet, the virtual influencer will become a mass market thing.