Avatar Influencers: What You Need to Know About Virtual Influencers

Brands are exploring moving away from leading human influencers and turning to digital personas.
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
Elizabeth Christenson profile picture

Pro Tip:  Influencer marketing is a key driver for retail growth and expansion in the physical world — but endless possibilities exist in a virtual world to create immediate connection points and experiences for consumers. Remaining authentic as a brand or a personality is still critical for retaining customer loyalty, even in a flashier and more entertaining virtual environment. It’s also critical for the retail industry to understand how the influencer, brand and consumer dynamic differs by channel to ensure that the right mix of product and persona are created for a virtual offering.

Avatar and human

With retailers migration to the metaverse, brands have been adapting their approach to influencer partnerships. Partnering with digital personas pushes the boundaries of who or what constitutes an influencer, and brands are exploring moving away from leading human influencers and turning to digital personas. 

“As brands really look to engage consumers within an increasingly digital commerce landscape, not only partnering with these digital personas, but beginning to develop their own virtual ambassadors, that’s providing greater control and flexibility and brand storytelling,” said Lauren Lyons, PSFK’s senior strategist during the recent webinar, “The Influencer Marketing Landscape.” “As digital twin avatar tools become more accessible and virtual worlds become more prevalent, we’re really expecting to see these real-life influencers adopt digital doubles or virtual identities of their own as well.”

Influence in the Metaverse

In recent years, influencers have taken a significant role in fashion and beauty. They made the sales experience more relatable and personal, using social media and more direct channels. As influencing evolves, influencers are appearing everywhere, including even in personal finance and career development as well. 

The metaverse is expected to take those efforts to the next level by allowing close-and-personal interaction between in-real-life and virtual influencers and the end user. 

“From promotions to in-store support to live online events, the virtual space places the influencer at ‘eye-level’ with the shopper, which aligns perfectly with Gen Z’s demand for a more democratized, decentralized market,” says Olga Dogadkina, CEO of Emperia.

Miquela can be seen wearing the PacSun clothing while shopping at the New York City flagship Pacsun store.

For example, last summer Pacsun partnered with Miquela, one of the most well-known virtual influencers, to collaborate on social content, amplifying the brands’ back-to-school and holiday campaigns. Miquela became a phenomenon in 2016, when the 19-year-old avatar, based in Los Angeles, appeared on Instagram and instantly went viral. The digital personality is best known for her authenticity, inclusivity and youthfully unique style, and Pacsun wanted to partner with Miquela, especially as both were recently part of new metaverse platform ComplexLand.

Celebrity influencers also are busy buying land and building their estates, says Rob Crumpler, head of blockchain, NFTs and the metaverse at IZEA. “From Snoop Dogg to Paris Hilton, new immersive experiences are being created that bring celebrities and their fans closer together,” he explains. “We’re at the precipice of new immersive metaverse experiences that bring retail brands, influencers and consumers together — all sharing the same experience in a borderless fashion.”

The metaverse represents a wealth of new possibilities for influencers in a market that’s expected to be worth more than $15 billion by the end of 2022, says Tyler Moebiu, SmartMedia Technologies’ CEO.

“As an augment to the ever-popular ‘sponsored make-up tutorial’ used by influencers on traditional social media platforms, influencers and brands could collaborate to create a fully immersive, branded beauty salon, where the influencer could demonstrate the brands’ products and allow consumers to try the products for themselves, all while personally engaging with them,” he explains. “Once the consumer is happy with their new look, they can instantly transfer their chosen digital products, tracked and registered to each consumer using NFT technology, to a wallet on their phone, which can be exchanged for individually customized discounts when visiting in-store or online.” 

It’s About Connecting

As the metaverse with all its platform variations unfolds, brands and retailers will need to experiment with how best to show up in these virtual worlds. In a virtual influencer partnership done right, brands need to think about how they can form deeper engagement with consumers in places where an avatar could show up, such as through chat, moderation, live events, consultations and interactive engagements, PSFK’s Lyons said.

Celebrating the arrival of Adidas' Ozworld collection, Adidas Originals launched the world’s first personality-based AI-generated avatar creation platform, in collaboration with Ready Player Me.

With digital identity taking on greater importance, consumers also are acting as virtual brand ambassadors themselves. Innovative approaches to avatar design, clothing and accessorizing are allowing these virtual brand ambassadors to cross that digital/physical divide to produce lasting in-product person experiences as well as virtual ones, Lyons said.

For example, last year Adidas collaborated with Ready Player Me to launch its Ozworld collection in real life and in the metaverse. The online Ozworld experience enabled consumers  to create their unique AI-generated avatar based on each consumer's response to a series of questions related to their individual personality and preferences across music and fashion. It then outfitted their avatar with virtual Adidas gear, which correlated to the physical collection, based on their answers. The avatar then could be taken around the web exclusively with Ready Player Me – a cross-app avatar platform for the metaverse that allows anyone to explore virtual worlds with one consistent identity. 

Moving forward, retailers will need to think about how to use avatar influencers to develop content on the growing number of new platforms all with the goal of building relationships with consumers.