On July 23, Kyra, a Mumbai-based Insta influencer (@kyraonig, 147K followers) celebrated her first brand collaboration with India’s leading audio brand, boAt. So what’s new, you ask? Well, Kyra is India’s first meta or virtual influencer (VI). As she turns six months old, social media mavens think it’s
a good time to reflect on whether meta magic has worked or not. Kyra is the brainchild of Himanshu Goel, business head at TopSocial India, a Gurugram-based marketing firm. He says, “We have been into influencer marketing for three years. We wanted to do something innovative and started working on Kyra last year. We looked at VIs across the world and created India’s first meta influencer.”
Introduced in January 2022, Kyra is the desi version of the US’s Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela) and South Korea’s Rozy (@Rozy.gram). Her social media feed is filled with a series of posts, trending reels and pictures from her global travels, fashion photoshoots, airport diaries and yoga sessions. Ask the creator about the future of meta influencers and Goel says, “They will be a huge part of marketing in the future, whether it is on traditional social media or metaverse platforms.”
The idea behind VIs is to create fictional characters that can engage clients in the world of social media marketing. Brands can easily collaborate with these ‘robots’ that don’t have human limitations of time and space. Rozy modelled for car brand Chevrolet earlier this year while Miquela campaigned for Prada in 2018 and BlackLivesMatter in 2020. According to a report by AI-powered influencer marketing platform HypeAuditor released in November 2020, VIs have nearly thrice the engagement rate of real influencers on Instagram.
“Globally, their core audience is women aged 18-24 years, which makes for 32.1 per cent of users. With 11.2 per cent of computer-generated imagery’s audience being Gen Z. For Instagram it is a big share,” says the report. Despite its growing potential, Tripti Bhatia Gandhi, the founder of Mumbai’s Detales Brand Communications, says it’s premature to hail meta heroes. “The VI may have a logistical advantage, as flying an actual influencer across the world may be much more expensive than a virtual one, but a VI promoting a skincare brand raises ethical concerns,” she says. How can a VI give feedback about what’s meant for human beings, she asks
According to a February 2022 study by Bold Creators Club, a virtual influencer agency, the VI market was about $4.6 billion in 2018 and is projected to register a compound annual growth rate of 26 per cent by 2025. As the line between the real and virtual is blurring by the day, brands are keen on investing in the metaverse. “Some top virtual influencers such as Lil Miquela, Barbie, Any Malu, Bermuda are unique and can easily manage relationships and collaborations,” says Harsh Raj Gond, a creative illustrator at the e-commerce site, Snapdeal, who produces virtual avatars.
There are as usual contrarians to every trend. Some clients would still rather engage with real-life influencers. Delhi-based fashion designer Karan Torani, for instance, says he would not prefer a VI as a model for his clothing line. “Nothing can replace the physical being. As a brand, I am rooted in mythology and history, where we are taught to embrace imperfections. A meta influencer looks like the epitome of beauty and symbolises perfection, which is not true in real life. These standards will in fact create boundaries for a real influencer. We are already witnessing how influencers are undergoing cosmetic surgeries to look flawless. Meta influencers will just further it,” he adds.
What happens to the ‘human element’ and the ‘personal touch’ that only real influencers can boast about? They come with intuition and emotion. Surely, the virtual ones lack these two. “The audience not only engages with the content but also with the personal life of the influencer. Content creators establish a trustworthy personal bond, which is impossible for virtual influencers,” says Mumbai-based food influencer Shivesh Bhatia.
Globally, however, brands seem to be loving what they see. In 2018, French luxury fashion house Balmain had virtual models—Margot, Shudu, and Zhi—for its fashion event. Singer Rihanna’s cosmetic brand Fenty Beauty campaigned with VI Shudu Gram. Miquela, a 19-year-old meta influencer who has three million followers, wowed her fans at Prada’s Instagram for Milan Fashion Week.
Christopher Travers,a virtual influencer expert, worked with the Adidas social engagement team for Ruby, an influencer he was managing.Last year, Candian singing sensation Justin Bieber teamed up with a virtual entertainment company called Wave for an interactive stage concert, where the singer controlled his meta avatar wearing a cutting-edge motion-capture suit. With social experts predicting meta as the future, VIs may have the final say in the matter.