PRESS: An Interview With a Virtual Influencer
The below interview first appeared in “About Time” and was written by Tom Markland.
The original article can be viewed here.
Virtual influencer...say what!!
I know, as if the world couldn't get any more unusual... but virtual influencers are about to be a BIG part of social strategy.
In the next five years, they are going to quickly become part of our everyday lives, from Instagram icons to virtual assistants.
Our head of Sales and Marketing, Tom Markland, spoke to Dudley Nevill-Spencer founder of VIA, Cubaka's virtual influencer partner, about the current state of the virtual influencer marketing and where it's predicted to go.
Tom - So, if I'm a brand and I'm thinking of getting involved in Virtual influencers can you give a snapshot of what they actually are?
Dudley - When you look at it, it's a computer generated image that looks like a human that can live on any social or media platform.
So normally they are still images, but we can do what's called a rigging to make them move and talk as well. They can work across any social or media platform.
We can give them a scripted human voice or we can write text for them. Which is great if you're on Instagram or Twitter responding to followers. So that's how they physically look and how they physically sound.
Their purpose is much the same as ours; to create a valuable, emotional connections with one another.
The trick with virtual influences is to understand the audience, to understand their values, their psychographics, the kind of content that they're interested in. The aim is to create a virtual influencer which responds to and bonds with their audience. Virtual influencers give brands the opportunity to build intimate relationships with their audience.
Tom - So what are the advantages of using a virtual influencer against a more traditional influencer?
So the first thing to say is that we're not here to replace traditional influencers.
Hugo Taylor made a joke the other day commenting on a post “stop trying to take my job!”.
And that’s not what we are trying to do at all.
We’re not trying to upset the influencer industry. We’re just going to add to it.
The differences between us and the traditional influencer model are that you can basically make them to order, so you can figure out what the target market is, what the psychographics are, and you can create an influencer that you know is going to appeal to them.
Second thing, is control.
So you know the when the posts are going to go up. What they're going to say. You know, there's not going to be any brand risk.
You know, they're not going to get drunk one night and do something silly.
Tom - We aren’t still talking about your friend are we?
Dudley - No, no haha.
Tom - Don’t worry we can edit that out.
Dudley - No it’s fine, he will find that funny actually, leave it in.
So there's no brand risk and also what we call ‘life arc’ and ‘product life cycle’.
So you can connect a product life cycle to the life arc of the VI (Virtual Influencer).
Let's say it's a lipstick company and they're launching a new product, you can create this whole story around the VI. For example, there's lipstick on the collar of the the VI’s boyfriends shirt and she gets really worried, she's really upset about it.
Then she finds out, it was actually his sister who had given him a kiss and she's the really cool trendy sister, that has ____ company’s lipstick on, which has just launched…
You can create narrative around product launch and that is something which is very very difficult. Almost impossible to do normally.
Because effectively you would have to manufacture the influencers life. You can do that in an entertainment format, but it’s its very difficult with real people.
The way I try and describe it is like this.
Imagine if you wanted to do product placement in a James Bond film or if you want to do product placement in a Kim Kardashian show.
It's like that. Except you can create stories around Kim's life you feel comfortable to show.
Tom - With Virtual influencers being CGI and also potentially owned/being used by a brands, there will be a number of perceived ethical issues that people have.
Do you have answers for these and/or solutions?
Dudley - Absolutely and these issues will become even bigger as the immersive internet emerges.
The immersive Internet is basically where you walk around in a normal a world with bricks and mortar and sky.
But, overlaid on top of that is a virtual world which you can interact with, through either wearing glasses or having eye overlay or even using your phone in augmented reality.
As this become’s a reality it's ultra important that whatever virtual being you encounter, you know if it's owned by a brand or if it is in fact a real persons avatar.
We want our kids to grow up with this understanding that either - I'm talking to this virtual character, which is actually entertainment, or I'm talking to this virtual avatar that is actually a real person. We need to understand that immediately the moment an interaction starts.
When you're talking to the entertainment character, you can suspend disbelief and get involved in the story.
And, when you're talking to the person, you can judge them based on how they're interacting with you.
We think that it's extremely important, you have to have full disclosure because we think this is a massive issue.
It's kind of an issue people don't even know exists yet, but it is suddenly going to become a hot topic.
We want to preempt it properly and then announced the a solution to it.
Tom - Why do brands need to pay attention to virtual influences?
And, what's the best way for brands to work with virtual influences?
Dudley - I think without sounding too bolshy they're going to be billions of them.
So the way we look at it is - in 2007 there was under half a million smartphones and by 2017 there were 4 billion.
We see the same happening for virtual humans.
We see it in the same place because as the immersive internet becomes a reality, every brand, every person is going to have some kind of virtual representation.
So there’s going to be billions of them and it's ground zero at the moment.
As a brand, if you get involved right now, then you are going to dominate that area within your sector.
And, uniquely for new technology, it's not insanely expensive to do. The technology cost has come right down.
So there’s almost no reason not to do it.
Tom - So with that in mind, how should brands engage virtual influences?
Dudley - There are two ways. So firstly figure out what you want.
If you want a virtual human which which is effectively an assistant for a company, like a customer assistant or customer advisor.
They might have a personality but they don't have a backstory, they don’t emotionally bond, they don't create content.
That's one thing we don't do. There are other companies that do it really well.
We create virtual influences that are specifically created or have been created to appeal to a particular tribe and a particular psychographic.
So as a brand, what you want to do is say, ‘Right, what tribe is it that we really need to connect with?’.
We will then help you create a VI that is guaranteed to appeal to that psychographic and that tribe.
Or at the moment if you create a VI and want to launch something, you get a ton of press coverage when you create one. So it’s a great way of creating an awful lot of noise.
Tom - What are your predictions for the future of the virtual influencer market over the next few years?
Dudley - It's going to be massive.
It reminds me of being an influencer marketer 10 years ago, they took a long time to get going and then the moment a big brand jumped into one niche, suddenly every other brand I'd spoken to for the two years before that, suddenly rung up and said, ‘Can we talk?’.
I think the moment you see major makeup brands, big beauty, fashion brands jumping into this properly, so not just paying a VI model but actually creating a character which is creating a relationship with a new audience.
That’s when all the rest within that vertical would jump in.