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Digital Transformation Influencers Artificial Intelligence

Why AI-created virtual avatars are the future of digital selling

By Iva Filipović, Senior experience consultant

EPAM Continuum


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May 3, 2024 | 7 min read

Welcome to the world of digital influencing, where AI avatars promote products and sing pop songs. Iva Filipović of EPAM Systems, Inc. explains why this trend is here to stay.

An AI-generated advertising image shows a virtual influencer holding up a bottle of a Korean soft drink

Virtual influencers are being used to sell everything from cars to cosmetics and soft drinks / Inoue. Y for Ito En via Japan Times

The world of digital influencing is undergoing a significant shift, propelled by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), spatial computing, and 3D modeling.

This presents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking brands to create deeper connections with their customers. Before diving into the cases and opportunities hiding behind the trends, let’s explore the differences between digital influencers and virtual characters, and how virtual influencers combine the best of both worlds.

Virtual influencers combine the best of traditional digital influencers – such as TikTok’s Charli D’Amelio – and virtual characters, such as those often found in video games or CGI movies. These fictional, immortal, and computer-generated virtual influencers can range in appearance from realistic humanoids to imaginative and fantastical creatures. A good example being Lil Miquela, who has starred in campaigns for Dior, Calvin Klein, and BMW.

Their purpose? To influence the opinions or behaviors of audiences on social media, blogs, or other digital platforms.

The virtual influencer takeover begins

BMW is not the only brand taking note of virtual influencers. In 2023, cosmetics titan Maybelline enlisted its first virtual persona, May, for a mascara launch.

Aitana Lopez, a 25-year-old AI-generated model who is passionate about gaming and fitness, sells exclusive content on Fanvue. This subscription platform combines AI messaging, voice notes, and analytics all in one place. Her creators, The Clueless, claim Lopez earns around €3,000 monthly. With around 300,000 followers, she has yet to reach the popularity of virtual influencers like Lil Miquela and Nobody Sausage. Nonetheless, she’s already endorsing brands like Olaplex and Pandora.

These cases are testament to the growing acceptance and appeal of virtual personas in advertising. They are not a passing trend, but a significant force shaping the landscape of influence in the digital age.

In July, virtual influencer Ayayi appeared alongside a human anchor during a live stream on the online selling platform Tmall to endorse the Shiseido Ultimune collection. In markets like China, where digital trends often set the global pace, the success of this partnership confirms the appeal of virtual influencers within the beauty industry.

A month later, IMG, a prominent modeling agency, signed Zlu – a virtual model and influencer, highlighting the expanding scope of digital personalities in fashion. Zlu has partnered with big fashion brands like Karl Lagerfeld, Chimi, and Swarovski.

In the entertainment sector, the success of virtual K-pop group MAVE, created with Unreal Engine Metahuman Creator, whose 2023 single ‘PANDORA’ garnered almost 30m views, illustrates the immense potential of virtual performers. MAVE consists of four virtual humans powered by AI motion capture and real human voices.

Unsurprisingly, studios are already substituting expensive motion capture equipment with AI-powered motion capture and creation tools. Conveying desired motions to AI can be challenging, but text-to-motion tools like Mootion AI provide a safer option compared to hiring stunt performers. Similarly, human voices are being increasingly used primarily for AI model training, as illustrated by the surge of AI-generated covers that have populated social media platforms in 2023.

AI-powered virtual brand endorsements

Meta’s Connect 2023 event was filled with exciting announcements, such as the Meta AI Studio, which will enable businesses to build custom AI chatbots and deploy them across all Meta platforms, including the Meta Horizon Metaverse. This indicates that the future of virtual influencers extends beyond merely starring in campaigns, to actively interacting with customers across all digital channels.

In China, livestreams featuring AI-powered virtual influencers are garnering massive attention, with providers like Baidu and Silicon Intelligence claiming that live-streaming anchors can be created in minutes. HeyGen and Synthesia offer similar AI persona services.

The creation of AI-powered virtual beings, like EPAM‘s own virtual assistant Vivien, and AI-generated personas will only get easier. But as with any new trend, brands need to understand and explore the rapidly changing technology behind them. It is important to think very carefully about their limitations, purpose, and value-add for customers before jumping in. And, as the distinction between real and virtual content fades, the importance of ethical practices and transparency escalates. Brands must carefully balance these factors to build trust and establish genuine connections with their audience.

As we embrace the opportunities and innovation that AI unlocks, we must also adopt responsible AI practices to ultimately help drive value and foster unique, tailored experiences that resonate with our users and customers. For those that get it right, integrating virtual influencers as part of a broader digital transformation can turn basic campaigns into rich, interactive experiences that can be hugely beneficial for users and businesses alike, positioning you at the forefront of the digital age and securing a loyal customer base in the process.

Digital Transformation Influencers Artificial Intelligence

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EPAM Continuum

Our diverse, integrated consulting teams apply a Systems Thinking mindset to get to the heart of our clients’ increasingly complex business challenges.


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