Are Virtual Influencers the New Age Celebrities?

Are Virtual Influencers the New Age Celebrities?
Are Virtual Influencers the New Age Celebrities?

What do you feel when you read the term “virtual influencers”? Are you mind-boggled, amazed, interested, not sure, intimated, or wondering who they are? – Whatever you feel, one thing is certain: virtual influencers cannot be ignored anymore and are here to stay.

Who are Virtual Influencers
Why Brands are Queuing up to Virtual Influencers
Pros and Cons of Virtual Influencers

Who are Virtual Influencers

Let’s simplify who a virtual influencer is. As the name suggests, virtual influencers are not real; they are virtual. They are a set of computer-generated images or videos created by a team of 3D artists, software engineers, art and creative directors, gaming experts, and content creators. They are pretty much like any animated movie character. However, the key difference is that virtual influencers have a public persona, have a solid backstory, and are virtually living their lives on a daily basis, much like any of us! For example, Naina Avatr, with an Instagram following of 156K, is from Jhansi and has relocated to Mumbai. She dreams of being an actor someday and is often papped by the media at celebrity events or even on her way to the Mumbai airport!

Why Brands are Queuing up to Virtual Influencers

The world is sitting up and taking notice of these virtual influencers, and the numbers are proof. Brazil’s virtual influencer star Lu Do Magalu boasts a Facebook following of 14 million, almost on par with former Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s 15 million followers on Facebook. India’s very own first virtual influencer, Kyra Onig, has amassed 247K followers since her debut on Instagram in January 2022 and clocks several million views with her reels.

These numbers are not surprising considering these virtual influencers are grabbing eyeballs by the millions. According to research and analytics firm Demandsage, 60% of the world population (roughly around 4.9 billion), use social media. This number is expected to rise to 5.85 billion by 2027. China, India, and the USA hold the top three slots for having the most social media users in the world. India stands second with 755 million social media users—an impressive penetration rate of 33%.

For such countries that consume social media much like food, it’s no surprise that companies and brands are making a beeline to hire these virtual heroes. In India, Kyra has already endorsed brands such as boAt Lifestyle, Wow Skin Science, Colors TV, and American Tourister India, to name a few.

The well-known virtual robot model Lil Miquela from San Francisco has brands like Prada, Dior, and Calvin Klein to her name. E-commerce retailer Myntra recently introduced their virtual fashion influencer Maya to boost engagement with their customers during their recent End of Reason Sale campaign.

So what makes these virtual influencers attractive brand ambassadors? To begin with, a lot of social media users are hooked on their daily life changes and even their backstories. For example, Kyra's creator--Himanshu Goel– divulged her backstory on a chat show, about Kyra being the metaverse and having lost her way and her memory. Now, isn't this almost like watching a soap opera-cum-reality show play out on social media?

Pros and Cons of Virtual Influencers

However alluring they may seem, hiring a virtual influencer can be a double-edged sword. 


  • Budget-friendly: Hiring virtual influencers can save a company tons of money. As of today, influencer marketing is a huge industry, as shown by a survey carried out by the research company Statista. As of 2022, the report pegged the influencer marketing industry in India at more than a whopping 12 billion rupees. It is only expected to burgeon further over the next 5 years at a growth rate of 25%. This would value the Indian influencer marketing market at 28 billion rupees by 2026!
Value of Influencer Marketing Industry in India from 2021 to 2022, With Projections Until 2026
Value of Influencer Marketing Industry in India from 2021 to 2022, With Projections Until 2026
  • Flexibility: It not only saves money but also a lot of energy and time for companies. There are no appointments, schedules, or travel itineraries to be coordinated; there are no creative disagreements or personal likes and dislikes to deal with. A virtual influencer’s physicality and emotional feel can be tailor-made to suit the product or service.
  • Risk-free: A virtual influencer will say and do exactly what a brand wants them to, unlike a real influencer, who may have a slip of the tongue or suffer from a bad hair day. In short, companies can breathe easy, as it would mean no controversies that could mar the brand image. For instance, a recent incident highlights the need to exercise caution while hiring influencers. In May, market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India fined and barred a well-known finfluencer (financial influencer) from trading for over a year and even fined him for flouting investment advisory norms.
  • Conversions: Virtual influencers are still taking baby steps, but the results are slowly but surely yielding. According to Japanese media company Dentsu, which has a team of virtual influencers, there has been a 41% hike in profits by brands using special characters in campaigns. This may sound like music to marketing managers who are constantly tiptoeing on a tight budget. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. In a recent report by Dentsu India’s research division—Recogn and Boomlet Group—the virtual influencer market is expected to “grow rapidly” in the coming years. New technologies and trends, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, will enhance the potential and capabilities of virtual influencers.

Influencer Marketing Industry - How It Started and What Is Its Future?
Influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing. It is a rapidly growing industry, having grown from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $13.8 billion in 2021.


  • Orchestrated: One area where real influencers have an advantage over virtual influencers is that the former may have more room to improvise, crack an impromptu joke, or even make those instant, real humane connections. Behind every perfectly-looking post of a virtual influencer is a hardworking team of writers and graphic designers scripting out that perfect content.
  • Lack of Authenticity: A virtual influencer can be a good source of entertainment, but his or her authenticity is questionable when it comes to promoting a brand. The younger generation seems to be more open to the idea of a virtual influencer, while the middle-aged and pre-internet generation may take their time to get convinced about products being endorsed by a non-existent person.
  • Ethically Questionable: There is ambiguity about using virtual influencers to endorse products, especially regarding harmful products. With the use of more technologically advanced software, such as deep fake technologies, there is also a risk of fraud, cyberattacks, and false propaganda. To deal with misleading content and ensure transparency, the Government of India in August released guidelines for celebrities, influencers, and virtual influencers in the field of health and wellness. However, there still remains a vast grey area that is outside any purview or regulation.
  • No Mass Appeal - India is a diverse market, from its culture to socioeconomic strata. Virtual influencers may be effective in targeting a small group i.e. social media users who are active and aware. However, a chunk of India lives outside virtual walls in real-life settings. A virtual influencer may thus find it hard to connect to the masses who face harsh ground realities.


If the way forward is virtual, virtual influencers are likely to play a major role in this transition. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg once famously said, “Nothing influences people like a recommendation from a trusted friend”. Whether virtual influencers can befriend internet users and earn their trust remains to be seen. For now, it’s best to keep an open mind and an empty slate regarding collaborating with the next generation of influencers on the internet.


Who are Virtual Influencers?

Virtual Influencers are a set of computer-generated images or videos created by a team of 3D artists, software engineers, art and creative directors, gaming experts, and content creators. They are pretty much like any animated movie character.

What do Virtual Influencers do?

Virtual Influencers are designed to interact with and engage audiences on social media platforms. These digital avatars are completely fictional and are created using technology that includes 3D modeling, animation, and artificial intelligence.

What are different types of Virtual Influencers?

There are three main types of virtual influencers: animated humans, non-humans, and life-like CGI humans.

Why do brands use Virtual Influencers?

Virtual influencers are designed to establish meaningful connections with their target audience. They offer brands a means to steer clear of controversies, provide flexibility, and serve as a cost-effective marketing solution for small businesses.

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