Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters that can be human-like, with realistic features, personalities, and characteristics. They are also referred to as digital avatars, CG-models, or digital characters. And, while they don’t exist in the physical world with us, they live very full lives on social media. Virtual influencers are created and managed by their creators. The creators are the ones who put in the work creating the backstories, growing followers on social media platforms, and overall marketing the virtual influencers. Their creators build these virtual influencers to meet their own needs and specifications, from what they look like to what they wear to how they behave. And, of course, they also manage the relationships and collaborations.
Some of their advantages are: reduced expenses that come from not having to pay a real person, not having to travel physically, etc.; they are never tired, they don’t have needs, and they are a mould that can fit any style or job. However, the teams behind them are expensive, because now instead of paying one person, brands that want to use them have to pay for the 3D model creator, the voice actor, the story writer, the fashion designer, the editor, to name a few. Additionally, however realistic they might seem at first glance, they lose their novelty quite fast.
In terms of how much money these virtual influencers make, it is said that the virtual human Lil Mickela, introduced by U.S. startup Brud, earned 14.2 billion KRW (~12.4 million USD) in 2019 alone. It has been reported that the price of one post on her Instagram, which has 3 million followers, is about 10 million KRW (~8,500 USD) per post. Imma, created by Japanese startup IWW, earned 700 million KRW (~610,682 USD) last year alone, including filming advertisements for furniture brand IKEA. A virtual human RUI created by D.O.V. Studio was selected as a brand model for Patra X Living Zium’s campaign following the Korea Tourism Organization’s ‘Korea Safe Travel’ campaign model. Business Insider, a U.S. market research firm, predicts that companies’ marketing costs related to virtual humans will increase from about 8.84 trillion KRW in 2019 to about 16.6 trillion KRW in 2022.