ave you ever seen a movie and wished you could stay connected to the characters for a moment longer? Fans of the movie “Belle” can by following the titular virtual popstar on her Instagram and Spotify accounts.

New animated film “Belle”, directed by Mamoru Hosoda (known for “Summer Wars” and “Mirai”), opted for a unique advertising strategy for promotion on social media: the studio created a virtual influencer version of the movie protagonist.

The profile @uworld_belle first began cryptically posting last summer on Instagram. I was instantly captivated by the stunning, multi-grid visuals that featured Belle amidst fantasy cityscapes.

Photo compilation of Belle's Instagram feed

After seeing the film in theaters, I finally recognized this futuristic scenery as the virtual world of U — a fictional Metaverse world where everyone can create an avatar.

What is the movie “Belle” about?

“Belle” is an animated film that retells the tale of Beauty and the Beast in a modern Metaverse setting. The plot is about a shy, 17-year-old girl who is normally very anxious and reserved in public, especially when it comes to singing. That is until she creates a profile on the virtual world U and through her virtual avatar, Belle, finds her voice and online fame.

“Belle” premiered in July 2021 at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 14-minute standing ovation. Yes, 14 minutes. Critics praised how the film tackled issues of digital identity and self-acceptance while remaining inspired by the original fairy tale.

Belle’s transmedia ad campaign

The first step to building any virtual influencer ad campaign, of course, is to develop the virtual influencer. To create Belle’s digital double, the film studio turned to Aww Inc., the virtual talent agency in Japan responsible for launching the successful virtual influencer Imma. In fact, you can spot Imma featured in a few of Belle’s Instagram posts:

Photo of virtual influencers Belle and Imma together

Once the Instagram account @uworld_belle was established, the next step was to go beyond gorgeous photographs and create more transmedia story moments for fans to explore. One way the studio accomplished this was by launching the Belle face filter, which gives the user Belle’s famous freckles and face marks.

Photo of Belle's instagram feed advertising her face filter

Another vital component to the “Belle” promotion campaign was the creation of a Spotify profile, where users can stream Belle’s addictive pop ballads, as featured in the film. Her most popular, with more than 20 million streams, is the movie’s opening song, “U”.

Considering how the film exceeded the studio’s box office expectations to bring in more than $2 million in sales so far — and this is an amazing feat for a foreign film during a pandemic — it's not unreasonable to speculate that social media could continue Belle’s story off the big screen and into our everyday lives.

After all, a two-hour movie doesn’t need to end when the credits stop rolling. When we exited the theater, my friend immediately pulled out her phone to follow Belle on Instagram and to add the film’s songs to her Spotify playlists.

Now that movie will always stay with her, not just for the experience of its brilliant storytelling but because her connection to Belle will be just a tap on her phone away.

Virtual influencers are the perfect lead-up and follow-on to a film release, allowing fans to engage with the characters in novel ways and buy into their storyline beyond the big screen, even going as far as to become advocates for their next big drop.

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