Nov 19, 2021
Success of virtual influencers in Asia foreshadows metaverse
Nov 19, 2021
With fluorescent hair and flawless skin, Bangkok Naughty Boo touts the quality of clothes and cultural products to his Instagram followers.
Bangkok Naughty Boo is a computer-generated fictional character, a young internet star in Thailand belonging to a new generation of influencers that promise to stay forever young, fashionable and scandal-free.
“I'm forever 17 years old, I'm non-binary and I dream of becoming a pop star,” says Bangkok Naughty Boo in a presentation video sent to the AFP agency.
According to industry experts, the power of virtual influencers, highly popular with teenagers in Asia, will be boosted by the impending arrival of the metaverse.
Thai virtual influencer Ai-Ailynn, on October 28 2021 SIA Bangkok/AFP
The global pandemic has made in-person interactions more rare, and has also helped fuel this trend.
Ai-Ailynn, an emerging virtual influencer, is “adapted to our new normal” linked to Covid, according to the influencer’s creators, the SIA Bangkok agency, because a virtual character like Ai-Ailynn is not hampered by the “limitations imposed on human beings.”
“First inhabitants of the metaverse”
“Virtual influencers are perfect for the role of first inhabitants of the metaverse,” the virtual world of the future on which digital giants, Facebook among them, are currently busy working, as Nick Baklanov, marketing specialist at Hype Auditor, told AFP.
There are 130 virtual influencers worldwide, but their numbers are expected to grow at warp speed in Asia, say industry experts, capturing a growing share of a global market that will be worth $13.8 billion by the end of 2021, according to consulting firm Statista.
Thai artist Adisak ‘Beam’ Jirasakkasem composing a mood board for Bangkok Naughty Boo on October 14 2021 in Bangkok AFP
“Generation Z individuals are the largest cluster of internet users in Asia, members of a digital-native generation that is highly familiar with social media and all things virtual,” said Baklanov.
The world's wealthiest virtual influencer is said to be Lil Miquela, a Los Angeles-based robot that earns $7,000 per post working for labels like Prada and Calvin Klein.
The World Health Organization has broadcast information messages about Covid-19 using a fictional character, Knox Frost, that has 700,000 Instagram followers.
In Thailand, Bangkok Naughty Boo has been signed up by a major modelling agency, and Ai-Ailynn is the brand ambassador of a mobile telephony provider.
“For brands, [virtual influencers] generate opportunities and engagement with the general public, because in Asia the concepts of idol and fan are deeply rooted in culture,” said to AFP Saisangeeth Daswani, fashion and beauty analyst at trend intelligence specialist Stylus.
Besides, the reputation of virtual influencers is secure, since they have a tireless work ethic and shun controversial lifestyles and potential scandals.
“Never involved in sex scandals”
“They will never make politically incorrect comments, and they will never be involved in sex scandals,” said Chen May Yee, regional director at consulting firm Wunderman Thompson.
A digital graphic designer working on the face of Bangkok Naughty Boo on October 14 2021 in Bangkok AFP
This is an advantage, especially in countries where public figures can be easily targeted by the authorities.
“The Chinese government's recent crackdown on wealthy influencers, deemed ‘vulgar’ and ‘immoral’, is likely to further enhance the appeal of virtual ones,” said Chen May Yee.
Ai-Ailynn has aroused enormous interest among Asian companies in search of “innovation and a new world order” after the pandemic, said SIA Bangkok.
But “people are still seeking for authenticity, for the reality of a real-life influencer,” said Mutchima Wachirakomain, 25, who has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.
Creating and maintaining a close connection with the audience is the goal of Bangkok Naughty Boo.
The influencer’s Instagram posts, which use the non-binary pronoun ‘they’, combine styled poses in typical Thai streets with everyday life situations, such as getting vaccinated or spilling tea.
“I hope I can meet you all in person one day. I love you!” they told AFP before blowing a kiss to the camera.
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