They work with the most famous brands, their Instagram accounts are followed by thousands of people and they always seem more real: virtual influencers. The only difference with normal influencers is that they don’t really exist, but are made by a computer.
At first glance, 29-year-old Esther Olofsson looks like a normal woman. She is from Sweden, but has been living in Rotterdam for a few years. On Instagram, where she has over 45,000 followers, she shares photos of herself in a coffee shop, while exercising or with friends.
But there’s a catch: Esther doesn’t exist at all. If you take a closer look, you can see that her face is not real. Esther is a so-called virtual influencer. Just like a regular influencer, Esther is paid by companies to promote products or clothing on social media. Only it was made entirely with the computer.
Esther was conceived by Maarten Reijgersberg of the Rotterdam communication agency RauwCC. “The reason we don’t make her look too real is that we always want it to be clear that she’s not real. It’s not our ambition to make Esther as realistic as possible, but she has to be against realism. “he tells News men.
In addition, they deliberately gave Esther imperfections. “She shouldn’t be too pretty. That’s why we gave her a little chubby cheeks and a bigger nose. She has to be the girl next door, people have to identify with her.”
Six people work on one photo
Reijgersberg and his team have now invested more than 150,000 euros in hours in Esther. “It took about two to three months to create Esther, but we continued to work on her after that.”
According to him that is much more work than people think. “Six people work on one Instagram photo of Esther. We go out for photos with a stylist, a photographer and a model who has characteristics of Esther. Then an art director and Photoshop expert look at the images. a content manager the text that is placed with the photo on Instagram. “
The communication agency now works together with various companies and thus earns money from Esther. “But we have certainly not yet decided the costs,” said Reijgersberg.
Esther is the only Dutch virtual influencer, but there are more abroad. For example, the Japanese Imma has more than 330,000 followers on Instagram and the Brazilian-American Miquela even has more than 3 million.
Build a bond with a virtual influencer
Iris Withuis, teacher of communication at the Hogeschool Rotterdam and researcher at the knowledge center Creating010, became fascinated by Miquela and together with her colleagues she is researching virtual influencers. “For companies, virtual influencers are attractive, because they are never sick and always do what you ask. But what we were mainly wondering is whether you can actually build a bond with a virtual influencer as a follower.”
In the first of a series of studies, Withuis and her colleagues had participating young adults view Miquela’s Instagram profile. They were then asked to describe her in a few words. The responses revealed that some participants barely distinguished between Miquela and a flesh-and-blood influencer.
“Not everyone immediately saw that Miquela is not real until they looked more closely. It was also noticeable that most people are perfectly capable of recognizing a virtual influencer, but that they are less likely to realize that it is advertising and that they are being influenced. We are now investigating this further. “
Humanity is more important than realism
The study also found that humanity and the story being told are more important than appearance. “We thought that realism, ie how real a virtual influencer looks, would be the most important. But in the end it turned out that humanity, ie the unique human characteristics that are displayed, is the most important factor in whether you can build a connection with a virtual influencer. “
For example, a photo of Miquela eating a hamburger is very popular. The caption says she’s eating her emotions away because she’s having an off day. “People can identify with that.”
Although it is indeed possible to bond with a virtual influencer, followers are not enthusiastic about all ‘human’ posts. “If Miquela showed negative emotions, it was not experienced as positive. So you can be authentic, but rather not show too many negative emotions.”
JOIN US ON FACEBOOK Esther Olofsson