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Influencer Marketing

The Truth About Virtual Influencers

Should brands really be investing their dollars into virtual influencers?
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Artificial intelligence is changing the influencer marketing world as we know it. From editing photos with generative AI to automating engaging captions with the click of a button, brands and creators have been quick to jump into new trends and opportunities brought on by AI.  

Now, the latest phenomenon making waves is the advent of virtual influencers. These computer-generated personas are taking over social media, charming audiences with their flawless aesthetics and perfectly curated lives. 

But should brands really be investing their dollars into virtual influencers? Do they hold any real influence? And are virtual influencers here to stay?

As we dive deeper into the realm of virtual influencers, let's explore the pros and cons of this new trend and discuss how to navigate the future of influencer marketing as virtual influencers take over.

What are virtual influencers?

Virtual influencers are digital characters created using computer-generated imagery (CGI) and AI. CGI is used to create the character’s appearance, while AI is used to give the character lifelike qualities, such as the ability to speak and interact with people. These virtual personas are designed to look and act like real humans, complete with unique personalities and elaborate backstories. 

While virtual influencers seem like a newer phenomenon, some — like Lil Miquela (2.5M Instagram followers) — have been around since 2016. 

Other popular virtual influencers include Imma (388K Instagram followers), Shudu Gram (240K Instagram followers), and Bermuda (226K Instagram followers), who each have their own distinct flair and significant online presence.

These digital stars are managed by teams of designers, marketers, and strategists who craft their every post, ensuring they align with current trends and well-concocted storylines. Unlike real influencers, virtual ones never age, fall ill, or get involved in scandals — unless strategically programmed to. This control over their persona allows brands to deliver consistent and reliable marketing messages without the unpredictability of human behavior. 

That’s why major brands like Balmain, Prada, Pacsun, and Calvin Klein, have forged official partnerships with virtual influencers — just like they do with human influencers.

The pros and cons of virtual influencers

While the rise of virtual influencers may be an exciting new pursuit for some brands, many in the marketing industry are against the futuristic trend. Like any other marketing trend, there are both pros and cons to working with virtual influencers, as outlined by Digiday.


  • Cost efficiency: In the long run, virtual influencers can be more cost-effective. There's no need for travel expenses, accommodation, or physical products. Everything can be digitally rendered, often resulting in lower overall costs.
  • Flexibility: Virtual influencers aren’t constrained to the same 24-hour days as human influencers, which means it’s easier for them to cater to your brand’s campaign timelines. Additionally, they can be placed in any scenario or environment, limited only by the imagination of their creators. They can wear the latest fashion, travel to exotic locations, take part in extreme sports, and so on — all without logistical constraints — allowing them to be flexible and creative in their content creation.
  • Brand control: Brands can maintain complete control over virtual influencers, ensuring their messaging remains consistent and on-brand. There's no risk of off-brand behavior or unpredictable personal issues that could tarnish a campaign.


  • High tech costs: Despite advanced technology, creating and managing a virtual influencer is complex and resource-intensive. High-quality CGI requires substantial investment in both time and money, which may not be feasible for all brands.
  • Authenticity: Arguably the biggest challenge of working with virtual influencers is the perceived lack of authenticity. Because they aren’t real people, virtual influencers lack genuine human experiences and emotions, which can hinder deep connections and trust with audiences. Followers may struggle to relate to a fictional character that doesn’t experience real-life challenges and joys. There’s a thin line between creative marketing and misleading consumers and brands must navigate these waters carefully to maintain trust.
  • Real market impact: When working with human influencers, brands not only pay for content, but also for their wide reach and deep connections with their audience. With virtual influencers, the initial cost is primarily in their content creation. However, as more content is generated, the cost per piece decreases since you can repurpose and build upon existing assets. Over time, producing additional content becomes more affordable, which could impact how much brands are willing to pay human influencers.

So, should your brand work with virtual influencers?

If your brand has some breathing room in your budget, working with virtual influencers could be an interesting experiment to test out. However, if you’re working with a tight budget, we recommend sticking to the tried-and-true channel and continuing to foster long-term relationships with human influencers. 

While virtual influencers present intriguing opportunities, human influencers consistently offer unique advantages that are crucial for brand success. 

1. Human influencers have real connections with their audience.

Human influencers bring a level of authenticity and relatability that virtual influencers simply cannot replicate. They share real-life experiences, talk about relatable challenges they’re facing in their lives, and express genuine emotions, naturally pulling in audiences to connect with them on a personal level. This type of emotional engagement is a powerful tool for brands, as it helps create memorable and impactful marketing campaigns.

For instance, check out this post from lifestyle influencer @jacimariesmith. She constantly shares vulnerable stories around her IVF journey, so this sponsored post detailing her favorite conception support supplements from Perelel feels authentic and helpful for her followers, who may be going through a similar health journey. 

Most human influencers spend years building genuine connections with their audience, fostering trust and loyalty which are essential for influencing consumer behavior. When audiences see a human influencer constantly using and enjoying a product, the endorsement feels much more credible, trustworthy, and relatable to their own lives.

2. There’s a diverse array of human influencers to work with.

It’s no secret that diversity in ads matters more now than ever. In fact, 59% of consumers are more loyal to brands that stand for diversity and inclusion in online advertising. And while there are a handful of virtual influencers with different backgrounds, the numbers don’t remotely compare to the thousands of human influencers who you can work with to represent a wide array of perspectives, cultures, races, genders, and experiences in an authentic way. By joining forces with a diverse group of human influencers, brands can connect with niche markets and foster inclusivity in their marketing efforts.

Take notes from brands like SKIMS and Glossier, who tap into the power of their diverse community and cultivate an inclusive community and showcase how their products look on different skin tones, body types, and more. 

Source: Instagram / @skims

3. Human influencers are master storytellers.

The rise of virtual influencers raises ethical questions about transparency and authenticity in advertising. There’s a thin line between creative marketing and misleading consumers, and brands must navigate these waters carefully to maintain trust.

The good news is that human influencers excel at storytelling, weaving brand messages into their personal narratives in a way that feels authentic and compelling. They can share how a product fits into their daily lives, highlighting its benefits through real-world usage. This form of storytelling can be more persuasive and memorable than the often scripted and staged content produced by virtual influencers.

Authenticity over novelty

The allure of virtual influencers is undeniable, offering brands unprecedented control over brand messaging and unlocking creative possibilities. However, human influencers still hold the upper hand when it comes to genuine influence and connection. Their ability to share authentic experiences, engage in real-time interactions, and evoke deep emotional responses makes them indispensable for building trust and loyalty among audiences. 

As brands navigate their marketing strategies, it’s crucial to prioritize authenticity over novelty. While virtual influencers may bring innovation, it’s the human touch that truly resonates with consumers, driving meaningful engagement and lasting brand loyalty.

Learn more influencer marketing trends and insights in our industry benchmark report, The State of Influencer Marketing 2024. 

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