Over the past several decades, the global economy has become increasingly a service economy. In the US, service industries account for two-thirds of GDP and 4 out of 5 private-sector jobs. As companies struggle to fill customer service positions with well-trained, educated, engaging, and personable front-line staff, smart avatars are coming to the rescue in industries like food service, banking, retail, healthcare, technology, and travel and hospitality.
Company avatars can be trained and programmed to become virtual influencers so your brand’s message is clear, consistent, and captivating.
In recent years, major brands like KFC, Balmain, and Renault created virtual avatars to promote their brands.
Digital influencers, digital avatars or also referred to as CG models are images created with computer graphics by CG artists and 3D designers.
Typically, a whole team of designers, artists, and content writers work to represent the life of such an influencer. To make them look, move and sound more realistic and human-like, developers use motion capture. Some of the virtual influencers are actually real human bodies with CG-made faces.
Digital models participate in fashion shows, host concerts, promote brands on social media, and earn real money.
Brud, a Los Angeles startup, created Miquela, the most popular digital influencer at the moment. The startup has developed some other digital avatars and managed to drive millions of investments to their company.
Creators of Shudu, the ‘first digital supermodel’, have also created the whole model agency TheDiigitals targeted at CG models. Virtual models who have contracts with the agency work with Smart, KFC, and Dubai Mall.
The top 6 global virtual models
Lil Miquela is a ‘change-seeking robot’ with over 2 million followers. Miquela was born in 2016 in the U.S. Now she is one of the top digital avatars touting streetwear and luxury brands like Calvin Klein, Prada, and Chanel. She is also a singer who has released several singles.
Blawko, also created by the Brud startup lives on Instagram, plays video games, goes on dates, and promotes brands like Nike, Netflix, and DelTaco. Blawko has garnered 156,000 followers on Instagram.
Also developed by Brud, Bermuda is a friend of Miquela and Blawko.
Shudu claims to be the ‘world’s first digital supermodel’ and has 202,000 followers. Shudu is featured in world-renowned fashion magazines like Vogue.
Noonoouri is a 19-year-old digital influencer and activist who works with Dior, Versace, Valentino, Moschino, and others.
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Virtual money makers
Seraphine’s flowing pink hair and cat-themed Instagram posts has attracted thousands of fans after she was created by Riot Games Inc. and her follower count is nearly 400,000 and she’s making appearances in Shanghai to promote her music, while most flesh-and-blood social-media stars are stuck at home. Despite not being real, she still sometimes wears a mask.
Brands are expected to spend as much as $15 billion annually on influencer marketing by 2022, up from $8 bn last year, according to Business Insider Intelligence.
A growing slice of that money belongs to virtual influencers, and traditional marketing is experiencing serious disruption.
“Virtual influencers, while fake, have real business potential,” says Christopher Travers, the founder of virtualhumans.org, a website that documents the industry. “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.”
Seraphine is one of about 125 active virtual influencers, according to Travers. More than 50 of those debuted on social media in the 18 months leading to June 2020. On YouTube, virtual influencers number more than 5,000.
With 2.8 million social media followers and a fee of about $8,500 per sponsored post, Lil Miquela is the industry’s highest earner, according to OnBuy, a U.K.-based online marketplace.
OnBuy estimates Lil Miquela will make about $11.7 million for her creators this year.
The trend’s real driver is Gen Z which is expected to number more than 2.56 billion by the end of this year. According to McKinsey & Co., millennials and Gen Z represent spending power of about $350 bn in the US alone.
Aww’s Imma, who has bright pink hair, goofy dance moves and a stylish wardrobe has more than 300,000 Instagram followers. She’s shot editorials with fashion magazines and participates in viral challenges on TikTok, where her version of the #syncchallenge, which involves a handshake that ends with a mimed gunshot, garnered over 5.6 million views.
LG recently used a virtual human at its CES keynote.
The Korean tech company used a virtual influencer called Reah Keem, a DJ and a travel junkie, to announce LG‘s new CLOi robot for disinfecting surfaces. She also announced the 2021 line of the company’s lightweight Gram laptop and Ultrafind OLED Pro 4K monitor for creative folks.
While she talked about these products, Keem also said that just like us, she missed traveling for gigs. The presentation was smooth and glitch-free, but you could tell that it’s a virtual avatar speaking to us, and not a human.