-commerce giant Alibaba unveiled their first virtual influencer: Dong Dong. Her name translates to “winter” in Mandarin, which is fitting as she was created in partnership with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Dong Dong is an outspoken 22-year-old woman with a passion for winter sports. Alibaba created her to engage and connect with young, tech-savvy fans. Dong Dong isn’t a typical virtual influencer, because she doesn’t have her own social media profiles. Instead, she’s a virtual brand ambassador who assists with online shopping, similar to Lu of Magazine Luiza in Brazil.

What makes Dong Dong unique is that she is able to speak and respond to fans in real time using advanced text-to-speech, AI technology. Typically, a virtual influencer needs a human to write their captions or scripts for them. However, Dong Dong can host a livestream independently and respond to questions from viewers instantly with natural language and expressions. She can even dance on a livestream, too.

Creating Dong Dong was an effective way for Alibaba to humanize their cloud technology by giving the AI a face and personality. The telecommunications company Huawei used a similar tactic to show off their automatic rendering and AI technology by creating virtual employee, Yunsheng.

"Our ambition is to use cloud technology to give the Olympic Winter Games a digital uplift and to deliver Olympic Winter Games experiences relating to cloud and e-commerce platform services to fans in a creative way. That's why we developed Dong Dong, with the hope that the cloud-based virtual influencer can create better engagement with the younger, digital natives in an exciting and natural way," said Xiaolong Li, Leader of Alibaba Virtual Human & Intelligent Customer Service.

Dong Dong isn’t the first virtual influencer to partner with the Olympics, however. Chinese virtual influencer Ayayi was sponsored by P&G to be their spokesperson for this year’s Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The Japanese virtual influencer Imma was invited to make a surprise appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2021 Summer Paralympics in Japan. A projection of her larger-than-life face appeared across the center of the stadium’s field, surrounded by colorful dancers.

In all, the Olympics have partnered with virtual influencers in an official capacity not once, or twice, but three times. It’s not a coincidence, but an indicator that virtual influencers are the future of advertising—and this is just the beginning.

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