he fashion industry has fully embraced virtual influencers in campaigns, in magazines, and even on the runway over the last five years. Now, the beauty and fragrance industries are following suit.

In 2019, Essence Cosmetics introduced virtual influencer Kenna as their intern to artfully promote products and brand values through her storyline. The brand engaged with young consumers in a fresh, innovative way, getting them emotionally invested in her story and their products by speaking to their daily lives.

Kenna managed to build a 17,000 Instagram following before her internship ended, leaving fans to wonder if Essence Cosmetics will pick up her storyline in the future.

Ever since successful activations with early movers like Kenna and the infamous virtual influencer Noonoouri, cosmetic, skincare, and fragrance brands are showing an increasing interest in this new medium.

Here’s a look at how and why the beauty industry is turning to virtual influencers.

Virtual Influencers Personify The Product

Fragrance brand Vyrao introduced Ræ as a virtual human to unlock a new kind of storytelling for the brand and their products. Vyrao created her to transmit, shift and amplify collective energy in the digital space. Technology doesn’t yet allow us to smell products through our screens, so visual stimulation is essential for feeling mesmerized by different scents. Through Rae, each fragrance takes a form, energy, shape and story.

Image by Vyrao

Rae appears to be made of illuminated particles that take human form. The aesthetic gives her infinite potential to represent various fragrance products, blend in with the visual style of Vyrao on social media and leave a sense of mystery for consumers to wonder about.

She is at the forefront of showing how a fragrance brand can breathe life into products. Through a virtual being, a scent can have values, style and narrative.

Virtual Influencers Make Great Educators

The beauty industry is proving that virtual influencers are not only good for marketing strategies, but they can be great educators for employees as well. Dermalogica created virtual human Natalia using Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Creator to help train skincare professionals, following its Awaken peptide eye gel launch in January 2022.

Natalia aims to teach 100,000 individuals worldwide about how the new product treats tired eyes.

Dermlogica's virtual educator Natalie and a zoom-in on her eyes

Natalia’s neutral appearance doesn't represent any particular race or age. She comes to life through internal platforms in videos or VR simulations, where she helps skin therapists learn about different skin conditions by simulating the aging process.

In the past, Dermalogica trained its network of staff using real-life case studies and before-and-after photos. By introducing Natalia, Dermalogica can work beyond human capability with zero overwork, overtime or efficiency concerns.

Natalia enhances skincare education and paves the way for other brands to consider using virtual humans when developing their expertise ultimately to increase business. She isn’t empowered by artificial intelligence yet. But as the technology develops, virtual humans like Natalia have the potential to go beyond current company practices and interact directly with customers in stores.

Virtual Influencers Connect with Gen Z

Virtual influencers are attractive to any industry because of their ability to generate three times higher engagement rates than real-life influencers. As well, they have proven to be a key way for brands to engage with Generation Z. That beauty brands are turning to them as marketing strategies, therefore, comes as no surprise.

Prada introduced their first virtual influencer or “muse” when relaunching the Prada Candy fragrance in their ReThink Reality campaign. Named Candy, like the perfume, the virtual influencer replaced the company’s traditional celebrity to better target the tech-savvy Generation Z.

Candy is an opportunity for Prada to explore the future of influence. By acquiring its own virtual influencer, the L’Oreal-licensed brand also gains control of its digital narrative instead of relying on existing virtual influencers, or human influencers for that matter, for collaboration.

Nonetheless, featuring famous virtual influencers with an extensive social media fan base has great benefits. In 2018, both KKW Beauty and Dior saw this opportunity and had Noonoouri star in their campaigns.

For the Dior Ultra Rouge campaign, the virtual influencer replaced the brand’s usual star Natalie Portman, offering something entirely new to viewers. Watching Noonoouri dance to the Prince song “Kiss” in an oversized red jumper and applying the Dior lipstick to her perfectly animated mouth felt refreshing, elevating the experience of both product and campaign.

For KKW Beauty, Noonoouri did a makeup tutorial for the brand’s creme contour and highlight kit. Wrapped in a towel and placed in neutral surroundings, Noonoouri served as a beautiful blank canvas for the product. As she follows each step, one has to wonder if the product accents Noonoouri’s perfectly smooth, cartoon features, making it a fun encounter, considering she is a 3-D animation.

Whether in-house or external, virtual influencers bring a unique and fresh element to beauty brands, whose campaigns and advertising strategies can often feel dated and ordinary. Virtual influencers help them stand out. They help them evoke curiosity. And, they help the beauty industry step into the next digital era, as brands market themselves as forward-thinking to a new, young clientele.

What do you think of virtual humans educating skincare professionals like Dermalogica’s Natalia does? Which beauty brand should acquire a virtual influencer next?

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