The recent collaboration between Depop and The Sims looks like a preview of what social media could look like with the development of web3 and the metaverse. Avatars originated in games, and on social media we tend to use photos of ourselves as avatars – a visual representation of ourselves in digital form. The web3 space will enhance current social media platforms and enable us to engage in more interactive and meaningful ways, allowing us to create 3D representations of ourselves, whether based on our physical likeness or a more creative representation. which visualizes aspects of our personality that we cannot show in real life.
This evolution will undoubtedly give way to different forms of influence. From brands creating their own avatars to act as community builders to marketing agencies creating their own influencer avatars, influencer marketing will evolve massively. But how has this manifested so far and what will the future look like?
Metaverse Fashion Week and virtual influencers
The metaverse is not yet accessible. However, there have been events held that offer a glimpse of what that might look like. Take Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) for example: the event was hosted at Decentraland and featured virtual influencers modeling digital apparel by some of the biggest names in luxury fashion. These digital wearables could then be purchased as items via NFT and could be worn on your avatar, some of which also had a physical twin. Digital front row seats could be purchased for certain events, and with celebrity avatars and fashion journalists taking their seats, there was definitely the idea of being seen.
As brands invest more in their digital product development and as web3 versions of social media spread, we are likely to see the rise of avatar influencers and these will become more common. The arrival of the metaverse will allow avatars to establish their digital presence and build their notoriety. It will also allow people to engage with brands in a more interactive way.
The rise of “independent” virtual influencers
Independent virtual influencers are those that are not owned or created by a brand for its own use, paradoxically these influencers are not really “independent” as they are often controlled by digital marketing and PR agencies. Entire personal brands are developed around these avatars to ensure relatability, which has sometimes been met with backlash due to agencies faking engagements between these influencers, encouraging political views and even building relationships between them. What appears to be a human personality is carefully simulated by digital marketing, PR and branding experts.
The most popular example is that of Miquela Sousa/Lil Miquela. It was created by Los Angeles-based tech startup Brud and is run by PR firm Huxley. She is a musician, change seeker and style visionary, and was named in TIME magazine as one of ’25 Most Influential People on the Internet.’ The depth of her character is human, drawing her attention and endless media opportunities. These include interviewing J Balvin at Coachella, modeling for Prada and getting millions of streams on Spotify for his music according to virtualhumans.org.
Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) is another creation by Brud who has advertised Chanel, Balenciaga, Tesla and Starbucks on his Instagram. She was in a relationship with Blawko22 and sparked controversy for hacking Lil Miquela’s Instagram and for her political views and support for Trump, which she recently changed. While stunts like these are often staged for attention, it also raises the question of what we will be looking for in the next generation of virtual influencers, will these be carefully vetted and owned by the brand, a safe bet in the era of cancel culture, or are we likely to see more “human” avatars, who make mistakes or have conflicting viewpoints, but treat them appropriately?
How do brands use virtual influencers?
Brands that have already started using fully computer-generated virtual influencers have found success, but that doesn’t mean the created avatar is devoid of any human element. They can be used as a complete visual representation of a brand and its values and are also under the control of the brand. It can also be a way for the brand to comment on social and political issues without directly involving the brand, adding new layers to the brand’s image and building relationships with its target audience.
It’s not a new concept at all, but one that has entered the public debate more recently because it’s almost a viable reality. The Yoox Net-a-Porter group launched its virtual influencer Daisy in 2018, she features in several brand campaigns, including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. The model exists to promote clothes, engage with other virtual influencers, and spend the majority of her time among role models and changemakers within the fashion industry.
But with brands that are already creating their own computer generated influencers, has the race for influencers who want to continue to be present online already started? Brands like Prada already have brand avatars fully aligned with the brand’s values and image. “Candy” was imagined and made in 2011, then relaunched this year through print, film and social media as she interacted with an actual perfume bottle designed by Fabien Baron. The key idea behind producing Candy, a computer-generated avatar or “virtual muse”, was to make the launch more appealing to younger audiences, especially Gen Z.
Real-life influencers will always have a place, however, the dynamics of that might change. Brand-owned influencers will act as a visual representation of the brand that customers can interact with, but there will be limits to what these avatars can effectively promote as they are directly owned by the brand. Influencer marketing works because a third party recommends the brand rather than the brand itself, it also works because the influencer acts as an intermediary between the brand and the customer, and the customer can generally relate more naturally audit influencer.
According Mintel consumer data, nearly half of people who follow social media personalities want to follow a virtual influencer. We predict this figure is likely to increase as social media moves to web3 and virtual influencers become more common.
Why do brands and influencers need to find the balance of authenticity to succeed?
Gone are the days when brands could simply post content to social media without engaging with their audience; community building is more important than ever and it will only become more prevalent with the development of the metaverse. We have already seen brands like the personification of the main Innocent brand and how this is delivered through clever use of tone of voice (TOV).
The increase in interactivity in social media on the web3 will potentially see this come to fruition, with brands being able to create visual avatar representations of their brand, allowing their communities to engage in more meaningful ways. Ultimately, brands, current influencers, and potential influencers all need to carefully consider their digital presence and how they can be more “human” and multi-dimensional online.
How can marketers, brands, and influencers adapt their strategies to succeed?
The evolution of technology will undoubtedly continue to force our industry to change shape, but by focusing on building communities and developing an authentic digital presence, marketers can ensure the success of brands and personal brands. . Achieving this will require a collaborative strategy, focused on using a variety of channels for organic performance. Agencies and internal teams that take a siled approach are less likely to build effective communities, which will be central to social media as we move to Web3. By combining the knowledge of professionals from different specialties, brands can create a cohesive and engaging digital presence.
The Sims x Depop collaboration and the idea of Simfluencers simulate what web3 social media might look like, with their increased interactivity allowing for an almost playful escapist experience. There is particular potential in the fashion industry where the more common creation of digitally wearable garments will allow avatars to try them on before they buy, especially where the avatars are close recreations of our actual form. This would allow brands to create a digital in-store experience, where avatars can feel like they’re in the store through the power of virtual reality (VR).
Honchō’s Organic Performance Team is made up of specialists in a plethora of fields, creating collaborative digital strategies that are essential for any brand looking to improve their digital presence for years to come. We combine digital PR, contentsand SEO to improve the visibility and external perception of your brand.
To learn more about the metaverse and the future of marketing, read this.
Schaunagh Gleenson, digital PR and outreach specialist, Honchoh