Yves Saint Laurent’s latest collection appears on the runway, modelled by digital doubles of some of the most influential, as well as avatars that don’t really appear human at all. The biggest names in fashion journalism feature front row and central as avatars; they compete to be the first to show the rest of the world the latest digital wearables. Some of these correspond to real-life pieces and others simply exist in NFT format.
For many, the metaverse might seem like some dystopian future similar to Ready Player One where we live out the rest of our days in the realm of virtual reality. The truth is that the metaverse is well and truly upon us, from healthcare to fashion, with most industries making the transition over.
The fashion industry has already made its mark on the metaverse, with daring brands hosting their own fashion shows and many of the major fashion houses joining Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) between the 24th-27th March in Decentraland. The platform will host daily shows, talks, and afterparties, allowing the fashion industry to push the boundaries of what people believe to be possible. Is virtual influencer marketing set to become the new norm?
And how can influencers and models who have already built up a social media presence and don’t want to be left behind make the transition over to the metaverse and continue to be included in fashion shows rather than brands creating their own avatars? Similarly, how can other brands access things like front-row seats to ensure their brand is at the forefront of new tech and how it’s applying to fashion. How can everyone use digital PR to create their brand image within the metaverse and solidify as an extension of their social image?
The future of digital PR
Digital PR is a relatively new field in itself, but the metaverse will undoubtedly change the playing field. With brands increasingly using virtual fashion shows and influencers, digital wearables in the form of NFTs will become increasingly significant too. Some of these have identical, real-life pieces that the NFT can be traded for, and others are one-off digital wearables that provide access to specific events like gated after-shows or front-row seats. The future of digital PR is set to change massively, with future PR packages potentially going completely digital and models and influencers receiving high-value NFTs rather than traditional gifted items like clothes and makeup.
Ultimately this will only occur when the metaverse becomes more normalised within society and is easily accessible by the masses. In the meantime, we’ve seen brands like Roksanda launch an AR function that allows consumers to virtually try on an NFT via an Instagram filter. This merging of traditional social media with the potentiality of the metaverse also makes the current user more likely to engage. Digital wearables can be somewhat limited due to their uniqueness, but blending the possibilities of social media to allow traditional influencers to share these with their following gives the consumer access whilst maintaining exclusivity.
The possibilities are endless as long as they’re seized on time. With many of the major fashion brands purchasing permanent space in the metaverse to use as shopping outlets or other event spaces, things are moving a lot quicker than most anticipated. In light of this, there’s a lot of pressure for marketing and digital PR agencies to rise to the challenge and generate new ways of solidifying brand presence in the metaverse.
Influencer marketing in the metaverse
Moving into the metaverse offers a major opportunity for those who already profit from their online presence. It can even offer an opportunity to those who wished they got involved in the early days of Instagram but then felt as though they missed the boat. The most exciting thing is that no one knows what the future of influencer marketing in the metaverse holds. We can only make educated guesses based on what we’ve seen so far and the fact that the metaverse’s potentiality is seemingly limitless.
But with brands already creating their own computer-generated influencers, is the race already on for influencers who want to continue having an online presence? Brands like Prada have already created avatars that are completely in line with the brand’s values and image, for example, Candy. She was imagined and brought to life in 2011 and relaunched this year across print, film, and social media as she interacted with a real-life fragrance bottle designed by Fabien Baron. By producing Candy, a computer-generated avatar, they made the launch more appealing to a younger audience, in particular Gen Z.
This isn’t a new concept at all, but one that has reentered public consciousness more recently because it is now a viable reality. There are obvious benefits to using virtual influencers who are completely computer-generated. For instance, they can be used as a complete visual representation and extension of a brand and its values, whilst also giving the brand complete control over what they say and do. This can also be a way for the brand to comment on social and political issues without directly implicating themselves, adding new layers to the brand’s image and building rapport with its target audience.
Ultimately whether the consumer will trust a virtual influencer relies on whether an influencer has been computer-generated specifically for a brand or as a person in their own right. The most popular example of this is Miquela Sousa AKA. Lil Miquela, who was created by LA-based tech startup Brud. Lil Miquela is a musician, change seeker, and style visionary, named in TIME magazine as one of the ‘25 most influential people on the internet’.#
The depth of her character is human-like, garnering her endless media attention and unparalleled opportunities, such as interviewing J Balvin at Coachella, modelling for Prada, and getting millions of streams on Spotify for her music according to virtualhumans.org.
Virtual influencers like Lil Miquela can’t be ignored as an option for brands, they’re completely under control and not at risk of saying or doing something that ruins their reputation. The engagement rate on a virtual influencer is also said to be three times higher than that of a real influencer. Whilst this doesn’t mean that someone is more likely to buy a product because they saw it on a virtual influencer, it does suggest that the public is open to seeing products through this medium.
Authentic influencing isn’t adhered to on social media as it currently is, the majority of influencers edit photos beyond recognition. It’s impossible to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake right now on social media, so is creating a virtual influencer that far removed from that?
Community building and trust
There are concerns, though, that by moving away from real people, brands will undermine the key aspects that make influencer marketing so powerful. The most successful influencers are the ones that have stories, flaws, and at least a degree of relatability. Platforms like YouTube enable this as you can view long-form content created by influencers, witness the behind-the-scenes of their lives, and almost feel as though they’re speaking to you as a friend.
It’s very similar to word-of-mouth marketing, people are more likely to buy something that their friend recommends because they trust them. As many as 92% of people would trust recommendations from family and friends over any other type of advertising. The internet now means that certain influencers have moved into the quasi-friend territory, allowing them to effectively persuade the masses to invest in products and services that they recommend.
The importance of community building cannot be undermined or undervalued in this respect. Influencer marketing tends to resonate most with generation Z, but they’re also likely to purchase based on values, which is why honest brands and influencers are so successful. If they already have a community that is likely to be loyal to them on other platforms which potentially trust them more than branded avatars as they’re actual people and not just loyal to the brand. Of course, there are some influencers that say whatever they’re paid to say which breaks down the trust barrier when it comes to influencer marketing.
91% of consumers say the integrity and authenticity of a brand is the most important thing when evaluating who they shop with, while their treatment of employees comes in second (87%). Almost four in five consumers (79%), are more likely to shop with a brand that shares their personal beliefs according to Marketing Tech News. Whilst the audience may share the same opinions and outlooks as computer-generated influencers, will they trust them?
The effectiveness of influencer marketing in the metaverse will rely on the extent to which the consumer relates to the avatar, in the same way, that consumers trust influencers that show authenticity.
The way that avatars appear in the metaverse could also pose potential challenges or perhaps the opposite, people can choose to present how they choose, whether that’s a similar physical likeness or simply a figment of their imagination. Will people relate better when they can see people who look alike, or prefer the anonymity of not really appearing as they are? Does this then have implications for authenticity? Or for those who benefit from appearing as something they’re not?
While the metaverse has the potential to completely transform influencing as we see it, there are also risks to navigate. The metaverse takes the issues of social media and amplifies them, we see a carefully curated image that may not even be an accurate representation of the person behind the screen.
Does decentralisation equal greater accessibility?
While some believe decentralisation to be synonymous with improved accessibility, as many publications have claimed, it’s not necessarily the case here. While there’s scope for new influencers to rise and make their mark, it wouldn’t be possible to achieve fast growth without some sort of community already in place or access to traditional wealth or power.
Digital front rows are currently on sale to the fattest Ethereum wallet; is fashion becoming more accessible or is it just a continuation of the previous exclusivity that frustrated so many? Chances are, while you’ll finally get to visit a metaverse fashion show, you’re unlikely to build a presence and position of influence unless you’ve got the money or community to do so.
The key takeaway for brands and influencers with an existing online presence is that the time to consider expanding that digital footprint into the metaverse is already upon us. We’ve already seen some of the biggest names in fashion snap up front-row MVFW seats in a bid to solidify their presence in the industry within these new parameters. It’s very much a case of transition over or getting left behind.
With virtual influencers proving popular, it’ll be up to real-life influencers to prove their worth, and for the consumer to carve an image of how they want to be influenced. Digital PR and marketing agencies also have a unique opportunity to help influencers in making this switch. The strongest asset that real-life influencers have is their degree of authenticity and existing community base. However, amid the harsh realities of cancel-culture, they’re going to have to prove their place amongst virtual influencers who literally can’t put a foot wrong.
Article compiled by DA Creative Studio, a UK-based disruptive brand and digital PR agency that empowers brands to be brave, bold and loud.