Africa is next frontier for virtual influencers

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 05 Mar 2024
Virtual influencer Kim Zulu.
Virtual influencer Kim Zulu.

Influencer marketing is shifting, with computer-generated personalities – virtual influencers – attracting a large following and lucrative brand deals.

Amid this shift, Africa, with its young, digital population and rich cultural diversity, is poised to become a major player in this trend.

Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters that resemble humans and interact with audiences on social media.

They are powered by graphics, animation and artificial intelligence (AI), giving brands control and the ability to target niche audiences within diverse markets.

While Africa's virtual influencer market is still developing, “with Africa's young population and increasing interest in its culture, brands are missing a major opportunity [if they don’t take advantage of this move],” says software company SAP.

A recent study by SAP delved into the earnings potential of the top 60 “human replica” AI influencers.

Using an Instagram pricing calculator, the study analysed the follower counts and earnings potential of virtual influencer accounts.

Topping the charts is Brazil's Lu do Magalu, an AI influencer commanding roughly £26 700 per sponsored Instagram post.

African influencer Shudu follows closely, ranking 10th globally and earning over £2 000 per post. The Afropuffs (Mariah, Nesiah, Jaynah and Thandi), with over 35 000 Instagram followers, is another noteworthy example, despite not following the human replica trend.

"While there are hurdles to overcome, the payoff can be huge. Brands willing to invest in African virtual influencers will have a significant advantage,” states Lebo Kambule, founder of The Avatar Company.

The Avatar Company created South African virtual influencer Kim Zulu, who partnered with AXE, Puma, Mini Cooper and Mercedes-Benz.

Kambule says Kim Zulu is attracting more international attention and could become the first African virtual influencer signed to a US agency.

“Kim’s initial core purpose was to model and showcase clothing for only one South African brand. To date, she has gone from being a no-name influencer, to being the first African virtual influencer to partner with major brands,” comments Kambule.

Beyond marketing, SAP believes digital influencers could provide accessible educational content and healthcare information.

“By providing information using visually-engaging and interactive formats, this could be beneficial to those with limited literacy and those faced with language barriers,” its study states.

As with all AI technology, there are risks that need to be mitigated and in the case of AI influencers, misinformation is a concern.

SAP suggests robust moderation policies and AI-driven detection algorithms, promoting digital literacy, fostering collaborations and ensuring transparency in AI development.

“For African entrepreneurs and content creators, this untapped market represents a golden opportunity. By developing original, culturally-resonant virtual influencers, African creators have the chance to not only tap into the local market but potentially attract global attention and partnerships,” concludes SAP.