As the marketing director of a big brand, I have been observing the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing for the last two decades. From the early days of banner ads to the rise of social media, I have witnessed the power of new media in shaping the consumer behavior of different generations. However, in recent years, I have noticed a significant shift in the way young people interact with digital content. They are no longer satisfied with traditional forms of advertising or celebrity endorsements. Instead, they are turning to virtual characters, such as mascots and avatars, to guide their purchasing decisions.
In this blog post, I will explore this trend and explain why virtual characters are becoming the new influencers for Gen Z.
What are Virtual Characters?
Before we dive into the topic, let us first define what virtual characters are. Virtual characters are digital representations of real or fictional beings that can interact with users in various ways. They can be as simple as a cartoon mascot that appears in a brand’s logo or as complex as a fully animated avatar that can mimic human behavior. Virtual characters can be used in many contexts, such as gaming, social media, e-commerce, and education. They have been around for decades, but with the advancement of technology, they have become more realistic and sophisticated.
Why Gen Z Loves Virtual Characters?
Now let us explore why Gen Z is so enamored with virtual characters. There are several reasons for this trend:
- Authenticity: Gen Z is a generation that values authenticity and transparency. They can spot fake or forced advertising from a mile away. Virtual characters, on the other hand, are perceived as genuine and authentic. They are not human, so they are not subject to the same biases, opinions, or mistakes that humans make. They can also be programmed to express emotions or behaviors that align with a brand’s values or personality.
- Empathy: Gen Z is also a generation that values empathy and inclusivity. They want to connect with brands that share their values and understand their needs. Virtual characters can create a sense of empathy and familiarity with users. They can be designed to reflect the diversity and uniqueness of Gen Z’s culture and identity. They can also provide personalized recommendations or feedback based on a user’s behavior or preferences.
- Entertainment: Gen Z is a generation that craves entertainment and engagement. They want to be entertained and engaged in all aspects of their lives, including their online interactions. Virtual characters can provide a fun and engaging experience that captures Gen Z’s attention and imagination. They can use humor, storytelling, or gamification to create a memorable and shareable experience for users.
Examples of Virtual Characters as Influencers
Now that we understand why Gen Z loves virtual characters, let us look at some examples of how virtual characters are becoming the new influencers in different industries.
- Gaming: Gaming is an industry that has been using virtual characters for a long time. However, in recent years, virtual characters have become more than just game elements. They have become influencers in their own right. For example, K/DA is a virtual girl group created by Riot Games for their popular game League of Legends. K/DA has become a phenomenon in the gaming and music industries, with millions of fans and followers on social media. K/DA has also collaborated with various brands, such as Louis Vuitton, to promote their products to a wider audience.
- E-commerce: E-commerce is another industry that has embraced virtual characters as influencers. For example, the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo has created a virtual model named Lina that showcases their latest collections on social media. Lina has become a popular influencer among young women, with over 2 million followers on Instagram. Lina’s popularity has helped Uniqlo increase their online sales and reach new audiences.
- Social Media: Social media is perhaps the most obvious platform where virtual characters are becoming popular influencers. One example is Lil Miquela, an Instagram influencer who is entirely computer-generated. Lil Miquela has over 3 million followers and has collaborated with several brands, including Prada and Calvin Klein. She has also used her platform to raise awareness about social issues such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights.
- Education: Virtual characters are also becoming popular in the education industry. For example, Duolingo, a language learning app, uses a green owl named Duo as its mascot. Duo has become a beloved character among Duolingo users, with a Twitter account that has over 900,000 followers. Duo has also been used in various marketing campaigns to promote the app’s features and benefits.
The Benefits and Risks of Using Virtual Characters as Influencers
Now that we have seen some examples of how virtual characters are becoming the new influencers for Gen Z, let us look at the benefits and risks of using virtual characters as influencers.
- Authenticity: As we mentioned earlier, virtual characters are perceived as authentic and genuine. They can create a sense of trust and loyalty among users, especially if they align with a brand’s values and personality.
- Engagement: Virtual characters can create a fun and engaging experience for users, which can increase their interest and involvement in a brand’s products or services.
- Personalization: Virtual characters can provide personalized recommendations or feedback based on a user’s behavior or preferences. This can create a more customized and relevant experience for users.
- Creative Freedom: Virtual characters provide brands with an opportunity to be more creative and experimental in their marketing campaigns. Since virtual characters are not real people, brands have more flexibility to create unique and engaging content that might not be possible with human influencers.
- Cost-Effective: Hiring human influencers can be expensive, especially if they have a large following. In contrast, creating and using virtual characters as influencers can be a more cost-effective option for brands.
- Consistency: Virtual characters can provide a consistent brand image and messaging across different channels and campaigns. Since they are not affected by personal issues or mood swings, they can maintain a consistent tone and personality in all their interactions with users.
- Reach: Virtual characters can reach a broader audience than human influencers since they are not limited by geography or language. Brands can create virtual characters that appeal to different cultures or regions, which can help them expand their reach and gain more followers.
- Durability: Virtual characters can have a longer lifespan than human influencers. While human influencers may lose relevance or popularity over time, virtual characters can remain relevant as long as they continue to resonate with users.
Overall, virtual characters offer several benefits to brands looking to engage with Gen Z audiences. They provide a unique and authentic way to connect with users, offer cost-effective and consistent marketing solutions, and have the potential to reach a broader audience. As such, virtual characters are a trend that brands should consider when developing their marketing strategies for the future.
- Overreliance: There is a risk that brands may become too reliant on virtual characters and neglect other aspects of their marketing strategy, such as product quality and customer service.
To avoid such dependence, brands should not rely solely on virtual characters as their only marketing strategy. Instead, they should use virtual characters as a part of a broader marketing plan that includes other strategies such as product quality, customer service, and influencer marketing.
- Inauthenticity: While virtual characters can create a sense of authenticity, there is also a risk that they may be perceived as fake or forced if they do not align with a brand’s values or personality.
A solution would be to ensure that their virtual characters align with their values, personality, and brand identity. This will help ensure that the virtual character is perceived as authentic and genuine, which can increase user trust and loyalty.
- Backlash: Virtual characters may also face backlash or criticism from users if they are perceived as offensive or inappropriate. For example, a brand that uses a virtual character that perpetuates negative stereotypes may face backlash from users who find the character offensive.
Naturally, companies should remember to keep diversity and inclusivity as core considerations in their endeavors, this would mitigate the chances of negative backlash in the first place. However, in case of a crisis, there are still ways to address the matter. The most important point is to monitor customer feedback and engagement as these are explicit indicators of the brands’ performance.
In conclusion, virtual characters are becoming the new influencers for Gen Z, thanks to their authenticity, empathy, and entertainment value. Virtual characters are being used in various industries, including gaming, e-commerce, social media, and education. While there are benefits to using virtual characters as influencers, there are also risks that brands need to be aware of, such as overreliance, inauthenticity, and backlash. As the marketing director of a big brand, it is essential to stay informed about this trend and carefully evaluate the benefits and risks of using virtual characters as influencers in your marketing strategy.