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Virtual influencer marketing: the good, the bad and the unreal

Simone Lykke Tranholm Mouritzen (Department of Management, School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)
Valeria Penttinen (Department of Marketing, CERS – Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Susanne Pedersen (Department of Management, School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 8 June 2023

Issue publication date: 8 February 2024

6775

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to conceptualize virtual influencer marketing, outlining the opportunities and dangers associated with using virtual influencers in social media marketing communications.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on the literature addressing influencer marketing and interactions between consumers and technologies, this paper introduces the landscape of virtual influencer marketing.

Findings

This paper distinguishes virtual influencers from real-life influencers and related digital characters. It further defines four unique elements attributed to virtual influencers: customization, flexibility, ownership and automation. Finally, it introduces a taxonomy for virtual influencers.

Research limitations/implications

The conceptualization of virtual influencer marketing contributes to advancing the understanding of the (virtual) influencer marketing landscape.

Practical implications

This paper suggests that brands need to carefully evaluate the different characteristics of virtual influencers, when deciding to leverage them in social media marketing communications. It also provides guidelines for working with virtual influencers in marketing campaigns targeted at consumers.

Social implications

This paper discusses ethical and social implications for brands and consumers that interact with virtual influencers in the encounter between reality and virtuality.

Originality/value

This paper makes three contributions. First, it conceptualizes virtual influencer marketing by defining and critically evaluating the key characteristics attributed to virtual influencers. Second, it offers a 2 × 2 taxonomy of virtual influencers, grounded in research on anthropomorphism and reality–virtuality. Third, this paper reflects on the opportunities and dangers associated with virtual influencer marketing, outlining avenues for future research.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Corrigendum: It has come to the attention of the publisher that the article, Mouritzen, S.L.T., Penttinen, V. and Pedersen, S. (2023), “Virtual influencer marketing: the good, the bad and the unreal”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-12-2022-0915 was published with incorrect reference details for Ciuchita et al., 2022. The reference has now been corrected in the online version of the paper. The authors sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Citation

Mouritzen, S.L.T., Penttinen, V. and Pedersen, S. (2024), "Virtual influencer marketing: the good, the bad and the unreal", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 No. 2, pp. 410-440. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-12-2022-0915

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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