Virtual Influencer Marketing: Is It Effective in Engaging Younger Generations?




Virtual Influencer, Influencer Marketing, Engagement, Younger Generations, Instagram


Abstract: The market value of global influencer marketing has more than doubled since 2019 (Statista, 2021). The emergence of the so-called virtual influencers (VIs) has redefined the boundaries of possibilities in this “industry” attracting the interest of many brands and raising several questions about their development, ethics, purpose in marketing and perspective. These ‘new’ social media celebrities have also attracted the attention of the scientific community but research has yet to explore how VIs are likely to reshape the practice of marketing.

This study aims to better understand the attitudes and reactions of Generations Y and Z (the most attractive target group for influencers) towards VIs—in particular, to find out how VIs are perceived by younger customers and whether VIs can effectively persuade them to buy certain products.

Two focus groups were conducted to facilitate an initial response to a relatively new phenomenon, and to gain a social, contextual view of the issue. Our results showed that human influencers still outperform the virtual ones for a number of reasons, ranging from the impossibility of identifying with digital creatures, the inability of the latter to demonstrate the efficacy of the products on themselves and the impossibility, expressed by many respondents, of empathising with entities that appear soulless and largely manipulated by those who—anonymously, behind their backs—are only interested in selling products.