10 Virtual Influencers to Watch in 2023

Virtual influencers come with some major benefits and drawbacks for brands looking to uplevel their influencer marketing strategies, writes Kyle Wong.

10 Virtual Influencers to Watch in 2023

Virtual influencers come with some major benefits and drawbacks for brands looking to uplevel their influencer marketing strategies, writes Kyle Wong.

The influencer marketing landscape has grown exponentially over the past decade, from brands focusing solely on celebrity influencers to embracing brand ambassadors, micro-influencers, and user-generated content (UGC). In 2023, an influencer is continueing to rise in popularity, both on and off of social media; the virtual influencer. A virtual influencer (also known as an “AI influencer”) is essentially a computer-generated individual that resembles today’s social media presences like Kylie Jenner and Charli D’Amelio.

This “person” doesn’t exist in the physical world, only on digital platforms like social media and the impending metaverse— yet they have millions of followers. Often originating from a brand, the tech-savvy individuals behind a virtual influencer ultimately decide the influencer’s style, personality, and interests.

Virtual influencers come with some major benefits and drawbacks for brands looking to uplevel their influencer marketing strategies. For example, virtual influencers can “be” anywhere at any time, saving time and money on travel costs.


 

They don’t age, so they’re always relevant to the target consumer, and brands have complete campaign control, mitigating the risk that comes with human mistakes. However, there are some risks that don’t present with real-life influencers; consumers may be less trustworthy of virtual influencers because of their inability to actually use a product as well as the unrealistic lifestyles they portray because they’re computer-generated.

10 virtual influencers to watch

Lil Miquela – 2.8M followers

Los Angeles based AI company Brud is responsible for creating several virtual beings, most notably 19-year-old, trendy Miquela Sousa. Known online as “Lil Miquela” since her creation in 2016, Miquela is perhaps the most prominent virtual influencer in existence, partnering with brands like Calvin Klein, Pacsun, and Prada. Her net worth is over $10 million.

 

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A post shared by Miquela (@lilmiquela)

It’s important to note that virtual influencers like Miquela aren’t “robots” in the way we’re familiar with; they don’t have a physical body, but can be omnipresent across digital platforms and even featured in videos and interviews shared digitally. Miquela was created to be attractive and human-like, with freckles and her own unique personality.

Bermuda – 253K followers

Also based in Los Angeles, blonde virtual model Bermuda is often called “the most controversial” virtual influencer and even Brud’s self-proclaimed “problem child”. This is because the marketing strategy behind Bermuda began with drama after she “hacked” Lil Miquela’s account, and polarizing political views. She even has an ex-boyfriend who’s also a virtual influencer.

 

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A post shared by Bermuda (@bermudaisbae)

This kind of controversy is something users have seen time and time again in the world of real influencers — and helped Bermuda gain more followers, fame, and attention from brands. Though Bermuda has been inactive on Instagram since 2020, her close ties to Miquela and prior brand partnerships (including Chanel) should keep her on your radar.

Shudu Gram – 239K followers

Former fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson is the creator of Shudu Gram, a virtual model and influencer. Shudu is known for her partnerships with both brands like Balmain and publications like Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). Shudu’s Instagram is full of modeling shots, photos from virtual parties, and moments from her everyday life.

 

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A post shared by Shudu (@shudu.gram)

Critics have expressed negative opinions about Shudu and virtual influencers of color, claiming they are taking away opportunities from real people of color in the modeling industry. While virtual influencers bring a sense of uniqueness among other benefits that traditional influencers may not provide, this controversy is just one example of the potential drawbacks for brands looking to work with a virtual influencer.

Kyra – 216K followers

India’s first virtual influencer Kyra is a 21-year-old, incredibly human-like, attractive model and traveler. Kyra blends the worlds of influencer marketing and the metaverse, promoting and “attending” music festivals worldwide and endorsing brands like motor vehicle company Morris Garages. She can even be seen in an Instagram video walking around and sitting in one of the brand’s cars.

 

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A post shared by K Y R A ✨ (@kyraonig)

While Kyra is interested in fashion like most of the virtual influencers we’ve discussed so far, the interests given to her by her creators are largely around travel and lifestyle. She’s appeared on the magazine cover for Travel and Leisure India and at the World Cup supporting Argentina.

Imma – 402K followers

Created in Tokyo as Japan’s first virtual human and model, Imma, sports a candy-pink bob and expresses interest in fashion, art, film, and more (according to her Instagram bio). Imma boasts an impressive portfolio of brand partnerships, sponsoring content and modeling in campaigns for major companies like Amazon, IKEA, Dior, and Puma. Her Harajuku IKEA campaign combined physical and virtual elements to show Imma through digital displays in store windows.

 

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A post shared by imma (@imma.gram)

Take a look at Imma’s Instagram profile, or Miquela’s, or any popular virtual influencer for that matter, and you’ll probably see comments from users asking if the influencer is “real” or “a robot.” These digital avatars are so incredibly lifelike, and the behavior they showcase on social media is so similar to human influencers that they’re already becoming indistinguishable from real people.

MORE: Virtual Influencer Imma Featured in Lenovo’s ‘Yoga for All of Us Campaign in Japan

CB by Casas Bahia – 3.5M followers

Brazilian retail chain Casas Bahia is one of the largest chains in the nation, with a historical brand mascot named Bahianinho that began as a logo of a young boy in the 1960s. After a redesign in 2020, Bahianinho was renamed CB, and takes on the appearance of a lifelike teenage boy rather than a child. This is interesting because most other virtual influencers don’t appear to age.

With over three million Instagram followers, Portuguese-speaking CB travels worldwide to connect with other virtual individuals and promote global brands like Samsung as well as smaller companies in Brazil.

Rozy – 155K followers

Korea’s first virtual influencer Rozy is very similar to Imma. The 21-year-old social media star is an avid traveler, DJ, model, and singer, documenting her adventures and life updates on Instagram. In an interview with Tatler, Rozy shares that she was created to represent South Korea’s Generation MZ, a blend of trendsetters from Millennials and Gen Z.

Rozy also expresses in this interview that she doesn’t believe virtual influencers like herself are replacements for humans, but rather a new group of individuals that can support, learn from, and teach humans.

Leya Love – 350K followers

Coining herself the “love ambassador for Planet Earth,” Leya Love’s interests include art, climate activism, mental health, animals, the metaverse, and creativity. She aims to help people connect with who they really are and spread love in everyday life.

 

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A post shared by Leya Love (@leyalovenature)

A brand ambassador for the #WorldAwarenessMovement, Leya Love typically promotes global conferences and organizations that align with her interests rather than direct-to-consumer brands. She’s also a major advocate for NFTs, a topic in the art world that has increased in popularity over the last year.

Barbie – 11.2M subscribers

Even if you haven’t recognized any of the names on this list so far, you’ll definitely be familiar with this one. Mattel turned one of its most iconic, well-known toys into a marketing asset and persona by making Barbie into a virtual influencer. In addition to an Instagram account to showcase Barbie’s personality and interests as a virtual being, Mattel’s virtual influencer gained popularity for a series of YouTube videos that are still being released: the Barbie Vlogs.

The Barbie Vlogs cover a range of topics like makeup and cooking, and are typically just a few minutes long. They’re “shot” in Barbie’s bedroom like many videos we see on TikTok or YouTube from real-life influencers. Though the Barbie doll was created in 1959, this version of her is anything but dated as she breathes new life into Mattel’s marketing campaigns and continues to inspire girls worldwide.

Keep your eye on these ten influencers in 2023, and you’re bound to discover even more online presences taking brand partnerships by storm and reinventing the way we look at influencer marketing. The metaverse is on the horizon, and Ai-centered marketing endeavors like virtual influencers are likely to continue growing in popularity as we inch towards an even more digital future.

KFC’s Virtual Colonel

Attracting the attention of the food & beverage industry and publications like Eater, the Virtual Colonel by KFC is more of a stunt campaign than a human-like influencer with its own personality and behaviors. This digital version of the brand’s well-known Colonel Sanders logo doesn’t have his own Instagram account, but has taken over the KFC account for weeks at a time to share modeling shots and details into his relationships with other brands.

 

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A post shared by Kentucky Fried Chicken (@kfc)

Instagram users have consistently praised the Virtual Colonel’s attractiveness, adding a trendy, exciting new spin to a logo that’s not usually associated with the Instagram influencer vibe.This element of attractiveness is a compelling use case for brands looking to reignite interest in their products, especially brands in industries that aren’t typically thought of as glamorous or Instagram-worthy.


Featured image: Imma in a campaign for Magnum.

 

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