Retail company BHG Singapore has tied up with virtual influencer Ava Lee-Graham, or better known as "Ava Gram", to launch its new in-house labels. As part of the partnership, Lee-Graham will be taking over BHG's Instagram account to promote original designs by BHG's first in-house designer, Esther Choy. The partnership will last until the end of the month. The partnership comes as BHG looks to embrace the digital age, and explore how the future of technology can intersect with commerce. It also follows the release of BHG's new eCommerce platform. Marketing has reached out for additional information.
According to a press statement, while believing that style should be a reflection of one's inner self, Lee-Graham ensures that comfort in her outfits is never compromised. She is also said to be unafraid of sharing her opinions on social issues important to her, and does not conform to outdated female stereotypes or societal pressures. Lee-Graham is a homegrown 22-year old virtual influencer known for her gender-fluid style. According to South China Morning Post, Lee-Graham was created by a student by art school LASELLE, Reyme Husaini, in April and is a "racially ambiguous influencer" who speaks up about political and social issues in Singapore. Husaini said his intention was for the influencer to spark conversations on issues such as gay rights and racial inequality. Lee-Graham goes by the social media handle "avagram.ai".
Collaborating with virtual influencers is not new in Southeast Asia. Most recently, GroupM's influencer marketing solution arm INCA tapped on Hanson Robotics' robot Sophia as an influencer partner. With this partnership, Sophia joins INCA’s global network of content creators and influencers to help brands create influential content that brings brand stories to life. Brands in the APAC region can now engage Sophia as their influencer partner.
Earlier this year, PUMA Southeast Asia brought onboard virtual influencer Maya as one of its Southeast Asia brand ambassadors to promote its Future Rider sneakers. While retaining its other human influencers, Maya was said to aid in updating her collaborations with the sportswear brand and also group selfies with the team. Meanwhile last year, skincare giant SK-II also partnered up with AI company Soul Machines to create its first autonomously animated digital influencer, YUMI, while KFC also worked with Wieden + Kennedy to unveil its own version of an digital influencer in the image of Colonel Sanders. In Southeast Asia, AirAsia also created its own influencer called Miss AVA who appears on its Instagram page in travel related content.
Why the gravitation towards virtual influencers?
According to industry players such as Evangeline Leong, CEO and co-founder of Kobe Global Technologies, an AI-driven advertising platform that pairs advertisers with relevant everyday influencers, said that the fact that marketers were gravitating towards these AI influencers could be due to the control that comes with them. Unlike a human key opinion leader (KOL), using a digital art persona allows brands to better craft the manner in which products are featured online. Brands also have the advantage of creative freedom over the mechanics of the campaign - which might not have been the most pleasant of conversations with an influencer who has her own distinct style.
Another reason for brands to gear towards the use of AI, according to Leong, is the difficulty in finding an individual who can perfectly represent the brand. “With the help from AI, brands can create perfect persona that brings out the brand personality,” she said. When asked if the trend will be on the rise, Leong said marketers are in the driving seat of innovation and pushing of limits. But given the pressures of ROI, a digital art persona will only take off for advertising, if it also proves effectiveness.
Echoing a similar sentiment was Nisarg Shah, CEO and co-founder at Affable which automates influencer marketing using AI. Shah said that control over content being a key benefit of a digital influencer as opposed to having human influencers sharing personal views. Moreover, when an opinionated influencer finds themselves in the midst of a social backlash, brands too have to rethink their partnerships in place. With an AI influencer, this relationship becomes easier to control. Another advantage that comes with AI influencers is the ability to jump on any social media trend. Working with human creatives takes time - from figuring mutual availability to creating, editing and releasing content. However, content creation is much faster when brands can control the messaging and as such, they can better capitalise on any social trend with CGI or AI influencers.
Are human influencers threatened?
In a conversation with Marketing, Malaysian-based YouTuber and TV host Mark O’dea told A+M that virtual influencers can be seen as a threat if an influencer’s claim to fame works within the parameters of their looks alone. This is because "their content is mainly about looking good all the time" and virtual influencers can be made to look however the brand wants at any time of the day.
"I don't see them as a threat to myself personally, as I feel that my content isn't generic and it's mainly videos and silly picture ideas," O'dea said.
Meanwhile, content creator Jin Lim, also known as JinnyBoy, said virtual influencers are another form of creativity and consumers are unable to touch or feel them. "They can only meet the creator behind the virtual influencer, who probably will be less or even more interesting compared to the one being created," he said. Lim explained that virtual influencers are not a threat as the influencer space has gotten competitive with or without them. "There are so many people coming out every day who are suddenly getting about 100,000 followers or calling themselves a YouTuber or content creator. They come from all walks of life and on different platforms. As a result, brands now have different types of creators to choose from to market their products," he added.
At the end of the day, it is important for human influencers and content creators to protect what they do. "I built this platform myself and I don't want to lose my following or credibility because someone pays me to say something I don't believe in," he added.