Luxury brands are exploring the metaverse by creating or engaging virtual influencers, and they are as 'real' as they can get

A team of digitally-charged people are entering the virtual space, taking over feeds once dominated by music artists, celebrities, and models–with more cropping up each month. What's different is that these brand spokespersons are not actually real people.

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The proliferation of avatars in the rapidly developing metaverse, one of our generation's most radical developments in technology, is already driving some impressive results for all things Web3. Various industries have quickly pivoted and started working on metaverse-centric products, from e-sports to music, to real estate and even fashion.

Brands like Gucci, Givenchy, Moschino, Hugo Boss, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Balmain, and Prada were quick to board the hype train, changing up their marketing game and engaging their meta communities through the leading influencers of this space–hyper-realistic CGI humans aka meta-fluencers.

When Miquela Sousa (lilmiquela), the world's first computer-generated social media influencer, burst into the social media scene in April 2016, people were taken aback by how eerily lifelike she was. Created by Brud co-founders Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou, Miquela is an effortlessly hip Brazilian-American 19-year-old Instagram model who hails from Downey, California.

The initial reception for her debut? Problematic fakery, uncomfortable attractiveness, a danger to children, have the potential to easily manipulate young people, and a threat to their wellbeing. "There’s no way that hot cartoons are actually the future of fashion advertising," one article said.

See also: “New World Order”: Meet the Asian Virtual Influencers Taking Over the Metaverse

She has since amassed a large social media following (over three million Instagram followers at the time of writing) and profiled by a number of publications. She has also been pictured with a slew of celebrities including Diplo, Millie Bobby Brown, Yuna, Saweetie, Bella Hadid, and Nile Rogers, and spotted decked out in luxury brands such as Chanel, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Prada, and Fendi.

Her sponsored posts currently go for US$8,500 a pop and there are plans for further evolution of her character arc. Brud-owner Dapper Labs aims to make lilmiquela more community-driven. enabling fans to use tokens on the blockchain to vote on her character arc, including deciding which photos to post on social media.

The world is at the cusp of the future of fashion and Miquela is at the helm, still trailblazing six years on. In an era where one doesn't even have to 'exist' to be an influencer, brands are all in because said influencers are 100 per cent controllable, can appear just about anywhere, and can fit specific brand needs. They also never age.

Following in her footsteps are a new cast of picture-perfect characters gunning for their share of the meta-pie in Asia. Here, we list the seven Asian metaverse influencers (and their 'country of origin') that brands love and through which they are communicating and engaging with the Gen Z, the rising major consumer segment.

1. Singapore: Rae

Created by: Unknown

Debut: October 2020

Collaborations: Audi Singapore, Moschino, Monsoon Patrol, Charles & Keith, Valentino, Gucci

Fun fact: In July 2021, Rae became the first Southeast Asian virtual influencer to mint a collectible series. Titled Take A Byte, the three-piece animated non-fungible token (NFT) art series took 50 hours individually to conceptualise and create.

2. Thailand: AI Ailynn

Created by: SIA Bangkok

Debut: September 2021

Collaborations: AIS Thailand

Fun fact: SIA Bangkok describes AI Ailynn as a "21-year-old young woman with a bold, smart, modern, mysterious, yet confident character."

3. South Korea: Rozy Oh

Created by: Sidus Studio X

Debut: August 2020

Collaborations: Chevrolet, Shinhan Life Insurance, Calvin Klein, Maison Margiela, Hera Beauty, Jill Stuart, Pandora, Tiffany & Co, W.Concept

Fun fact: Her name means 'one and only' in Korean and she's known as a 'gamseong jangin' (a Korean phrase for 'expression expert') due to her amazing facial expressions and body language. To date, she has landed more than 100 sponsorships which Sidus Studio X is still trying to process.

4. Japan: Imma

Created by: Aww Inc.

Debut: July 2018

Collaborations: Porsche, Ikea, Dior, Puma, Nike, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Magnum China, Boss, Lenovo, SK-II, Salvatore Ferragamo, Desigual, Adidas, Amazon Fashion, Isabel Marant, Off-White

Fun fact: Imma, which means 'now' in Japanese, owns a specially developed fashion line and drives a sleek Porsche Taycan.

5. Japan: Plusticboy aka Zinn

Created by: Aww Inc.

Debut: July 2018

Collaborations: SLY x Puma, Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo 2020, Hankyu Men’s Osaka’s fashion festival

Fun fact: He's the younger brother of Imma, Japan's first virtual human. He's currently dating Ria, also a virtual human.

6. China: Ayayi

Created by: Ranmai Technology

Debut: May 2021

Collaborations: P&G for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Bose, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, The Middlehouse

Fun fact: Ayayi is the digital manager of Alibaba's Tmall Super Brand. In September 2021, Ayayi released limited-edition NFT mooncakes and physical gift boxes for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

7. South Korea: Sua

Created by: On Mind

Debut: July 2021

Collaborations: eotd, Papa Recipe, All Saints Korea, Maison Margiela, Laneige, Maison Kitsune, Helmut Lang, Bape

Fun fact: On designing Sua, On Mind designer Kim Hyeoung-il said that he was inspired by Blackpink’s Jennie and Twice's Tzuyu.

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