The rise of virtual beauty influencers is set to develop

Natasha Hatherall-Shawe
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe
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There is no argument around the power of influencers for beauty, fashion and wellness brands. As we know it, in the digital age, the status of the influencer has long been used to influence purchasing decisions, word of mouth, virality and brand goodwill.

As organic reach on social media platforms drops continuously, consumers' attitudes towards super rich or ‘celebrity’ influencers is changing also. Viewed with a lack of transparency and trust, and even the new ‘de-influencing’ trend gaining traction via TikTok, what does influencer marketing look like now for the beauty industry?

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At the end of 2022, beauty mega brand, Nars, unveiled its trio of new influencers - Maxine, Chelsea and Sissi, known as the ‘power players’ - the three are entirely virtual. Unveiled to serve as spokespeople for the brand’s digital presence and projects, the rendered avatars are inspired by Nars lipstick shades. Introduced via Nars own social channels and website, 2023 will see further ‘character building’ of these meta-humans.

We can’t move industry wise for chat about the utilisation and benefit of AI tools, but practically, we have seen not just the invention, but the rise of the virtual beauty influencer. Computer generated and existing solely online, these virtual influencers, usually looking as human as you or I exist to create a brand owned, bond of trust between the products and the consumer.

A 2022 virtual influencers survey by the Influencer Marketing Factory revealed that 58 percent of respondents were following at least one virtual influencer with 35 percent claiming that they had been inspired to buy products via one. The age group 18 to 44 years were found to be most likely to have bought a promoted product.

Virtual influencers, now with millions of followers have struck deals with Balmain, Balenciaga and Prada with many other global brands looking to leverage their power and reach.

Of course, the idea of retaining control of content is the biggest benefit to creating your own virtual influencer for brands, whereas traditionally the creative process would be in the hands of the real life individual, paid or otherwise. The content itself can be automated too - these virtual stars can and will work around the clock of course, so the output is another bonus.

Virtual influencers are not going to lose interest or switch brands. Campaign specific, they can be switched out, or even put to pasture dependent on a new launch, product or ‘look and feel.’

It’s easy to see why the virtual option would be an attractive investment for beauty and wellness brands. Asia has seen a widespread adoption of virtual avatars, with global brands who personalise their regional offerings, keen to press on with widespread appeal in other territories. Creating ‘wearables’ and NFT offshoots, AI technology might feel inaccessible for smaller brands and businesses at a Nars level, but the creativity and the vision can be adopted easily enough.

Working with existing virtual influencers can be a gateway alongside considering the creation of an ‘owned’ virtual personality to guide and educate not just consumers but employees and brand advocates also.

Dermalogica created virtual human ‘Natalia’ using Unreal Engine’s ‘MetaHuman Creator’ specifically to train skincare professionals, following its new peptide eye gel launch in January 2022. Natalia aims to teach 100,000 individuals about how the new product treats tired eyes.

Brands working with virtual influencers are reporting engagement rates three times higher than real life influencers. Engaging with Gen Z consumers is the key strategy for most beauty brands this year, and as a demographic are attuned to new technology and growing with the AI advances.

When Prada created ‘Candy’ for its perfume launch, and again, with Nars, they are not only utilising the new opportunities, but keeping full control of their own digital storytelling versus collaboration with other influencers, either virtual or real life.

However, Gen Z consumers are craving authenticity and connection with brands in 2023, how the virtual status will resonate going forward remains to be seen, certainly if ‘owned’ virtual assets by brands are viewed the same as celebrity endorsement or advertising, it could all go the same way in terms of brand trust and loyalty.

The ideal match, in my opinion, is for beauty brands to embrace the new technology to be able to increase output and creative opportunities - automation, almost, that could mean the difference between being able to showcase more products, ‘edutainment’ or even training, versus utilising traditional resources. This is no bad thing.

To those brands looking for an exclusively unique take on their digital strategy, using virtual influencers, whether externally sourced, or created in house, brings an excitingly fresh element to their campaigns and advertisements online. As an industry, beauty needs to remain forward thinking and appealing to the next generations, so it only makes sense to adopt the vision and technology that is driving them in their day to day lives, and ultimately, buying decisions.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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