Sunday, September 19, 2021
Extended RealityImmersive Technology

The Rise of Virtual Avatars: From Social Media to Business and Entertainment

Soon, virtual avatars might step out of video games and into board meetings, onto catwalks, and in concierge service businesses.

 

Two decades ago, the music band Gorillaz was highly controversial for using only cartoons in their videos and stage appearances. Now, they are deemed pioneers in the field of virtual avatars.

Gorillaz virtual avatars
Source: Gorillaz Facebook page

From business meetings to fashion shows, virtual avatars are taking over the real world and allowing people to enjoy a respite from too much face-to-face video interactions.

Virtual Avatars: From Fighting Zoom Fatigue to Fully Tailored Influencer Marketing

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that you can feel drained after too many online meetings. One of the few lighthearted moments in the long and dreary list of Zoom fatigue stories was a lawyer who accidentally remained stuck with a cat filter during an online hearing with a judge. This funny incident made many people wonder if they could replace themselves with their favorite animal in video calls.

Perhaps not, but by using virtual avatars, many professionals who will continue to work from home can take a break from being under scrutiny from remote participants. They may ruffle their hair, drop the smile, and have a sip of coffee while their avatar continues the presentation.

And that is not all… What if a popular model or Instagram influencer was not actually a real person? This is not fantasy, but an actual trend: virtual avatars are taking over influencer marketing and fashion shows, as well.

The Agency That Hires Virtual Models

Tall, in the early 20s, with a quirky personality and lots of curly hair – meet Zoe Dvir, a professional model. The only problem is that Zoe does not exist in the physical world, but only in the digital one.

 

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A post shared by Zoe Dvir (@zoedvir)

Yes, Zoe is one of the virtual avatars that you can hire from a model agency. Together with Ella Stoller, a pink-haired young woman that redefines the concept of beauty, Zoe has already made appearances on Instagram, in magazines, and at a prestigious fashion show.

This concept opens the gates for a new concept: highly tailored influencer marketing campaigns. Companies can transpose customer personas into virtual avatars, which will literally look and talk like their target audience. From Zoe and Ella, we can imagine an entire department of virtual models, promoting anything from car insurance to exotic holidays.

Beyond Gorrilaz – Virtual Avatars Take Over the Stage

Will you in the future be watching your favorite singer or band performing live, or their virtual avatars instead?

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Gorrilaz have proven that you can create an entire animated universe around your music, without letting your fans see your face. This is actually one of the key elements of the success of the band. In this context, will singers choose to perform live at the same time in several corners of the earth, through virtual avatars? This may be something worth considering, given the grueling logistics of a world tour.

Doing Business in a Virtual World

Will the rise of virtual avatars take over boardrooms, as well? It is a welcome prospect, from the point of view of Darden Professor Roshni Raveendhran. In her opinion “these new immersive technologies may offer a way to be virtually present and experience psychological safety at the same time”.

Her opinion stems from a study that found that managers prefer to monitor remote employees through an avatar rather than face to face “in situations that can trigger a negative judgment and where they feel socially threatened.”

The Challenges of Using Virtual Avatars

Virtual avatars may exist only in a computer-generated world, but they have a stronghold on the real world, as well. Whenever someone creates a virtual avatar – on a VR social platform, in a video game, or at the workplace – they share some very personal details about themselves with the respective platform.

As a Deloitte Insights report points out, all organizations that wish to adopt virtual avatars need to pay great attention to privacy and ethics issues. The report is not afraid of using strong words. In the author’s opinion, the rise of virtual avatars and the advancements of AR and VR technologies is a “perfect storm” for the future of interpersonal relationships.

However, there is no going back. Virtual avatars are here to stay, and both organizations and individuals must find a way to manage the information shared through these avatars, the privacy guarantees, as well as the ethics of doing business through virtual characters.

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