Replacing Mascots With Virtual Influencers

Eugene Capon
6 min readMar 1, 2023

It’s hard to imagine some brands without their iconic mascots. For example, Geico has Martin the Gecko, Frosted Flakes has Tony the Tiger, and Microsoft Office had Clippy the Paperclip. These virtual characters are designed to help sell experiences related to the purchase of goods and services, and they have become an essential part of advertising, marketing, and community engagement. The use of these intellectual property (IP) characters is a long-standing tradition in the marketing space. They have appeared in everything from print ads to television commercials, and they have even starred in their own video games. For instance, KFC’s romance simulator “I Love You, Colonel Sanders” was a unique marketing product that challenged brands to think outside the box. Overall, mascots have proven to be effective tools in building brand awareness, customer loyalty, and engagement. By creating a memorable character, a brand can establish a connection with consumers that goes beyond the product or service itself. It’s no wonder that many companies continue to use mascots as part of their marketing strategies.

The Influencer Generation

Around 2005, social media became the new baseline for marketing. With it, a new kind of promoter called the “influencer” evolved from people doing everyday things or sharing their love of a subject, resulting in amassing large audiences. Ordinary people were elevated to celebrity status by building their own identities on social media. Brands took notice of this and wanted to leverage those communities in which influencers had built a more personal and trustworthy relationship than simply trying to sell them products. The problem with influencers is that they often aren’t managed properties like mascots. If an influencer is caught doing or saying something negative, it could result in them being canceled. If a spokesperson or influencer for a brand is canceled, it will most likely have a negative effect on the company that hired them. So, how can you limit the odds of working with an influencer? You can work with a virtual influencer instead. Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters that can represent a brand and provide a more controlled and consistent image than human influencers. Virtual influencers don’t have the potential for negative behavior that human influencers do, and they can be fully managed and controlled by the brand. This approach can help brands to avoid the risks associated with human influencers and still benefit from the power of social media marketing. As social media continues to evolve, it’s likely that we will see more brands turning to virtual influencers to help them build and maintain their online presence.

Source: Youtube CodeMiko

The next generation of the mascot is here… the VInfluencer

With the advancement of technology comes the innovation of storytelling. Brands are nothing more than a company with great storytelling and unified imagery. If we were to create a modern-day mascot, it would definitely be the virtual influencer or “VInfluencer” (or “Vtuber” if on YouTube). The barrier to entry to create a 3D avatar has never been lower. With Unreal Engine’s Metahumans, you can create a nearly realistic avatar. All you need is an actor looking into an iPhone, and voila, you have a virtual influencer. (Of course, it’s not quite that easy, but it feels like it sometimes.) It does require a minimal level of technical knowledge to bring one of these virtual beings to life, and many people do it as a full-time job, streaming on Twitch or YouTube. The rise of virtual influencers is a testament to the power of storytelling and branding. A virtual influencer can provide a more controlled and consistent image than human influencers, and they can also avoid the risks associated with human behavior. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see more and more brands turning to virtual influencers as a way to engage with their audiences and build their online presence.

Some Great Virtual Influencers to Watch

Some general rules for building your own virtual influencer.

As many companies or brands decide to create their own virtual influencers, it’s important to design them specifically for their audience while keeping in mind the image of the company. Otherwise, the character could be seen as problematic (like what happened with the Kansas City Chiefs).

Here are some common sense rules for creating your virtual influencer:

  1. The VInfluencer must be a representation of the company itself and not the image they want to portray. For example, if your company isn’t owned by a majority of people of color, then your virtual influencer should be white. If your company boardroom is mostly black, then don’t have a Vtuber who is Asian, and so on.
  2. Do not use an actor who is not the same race/gender as your VInfluencer unless it is anthropomorphic. Also, don’t make your actor do accents that aren’t their own for the character.
  3. Develop a meaningful past and dive deep into a well-developed character personality. Where is your VInfluencer from? What is their education level? What is their family life like? What are they afraid of? There are many details that can be developed in the next section titled “Character Tree.”
  4. It’s okay to have a non-human VInfluencer but make sure the previous rules are followed for racial “coded” traits. A good example is Fry from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where he is obviously coded as a black man but is in the body of a floating container of fries.

By following these rules, you can create a virtual influencer that represents your company and resonates with your audience. A well-designed virtual influencer can help you connect with your customers and build brand loyalty in a unique and engaging way.

Photo credit: Fox, King of the Hill

Character Tree — Personality Development

One effective method for designing a virtual influencer is to break down individual segments and attributes of the character. This approach allows you to build a well-rounded understanding of who your influencer is and what makes them unique. Here are some examples of the segments and attributes you might consider using the Character Tree method often used in entertainment show development. Let’s create an example with Bobby from the show King of the Hill.

Feet: Obvious, tangible details about a character

Example: Short hair, chubby, and wears cargo shorts.

Groin: What do they want on a primal level

Example: Bobby wants to be the center of attention through performing whether that is through magic, comedy, or ventriloquism.

Heart: All the things they secretly want.

Example: He wants to be loved by his GF and accepted by his dad Hank for his less conservative quirks.

Throat: The influencer’s posture, attempt at presentation, and affection.

Example: Constantly joking, can go from loud to quiet very quickly.

Left Cheek (left brain): How smart is the character?

Example: Bobby isn’t the brightest or logically gifted. He is often taken advantage of or easily manipulated.

Right Brain (Right Brain): Ethics, soul, and creative ability

Example: Bobby is a naturally good person and has been shown to have impressive emotional awareness. He is about body positivity.

By breaking down these attributes, you can create a comprehensive and well-developed character tree that will serve as a blueprint for your virtual influencer. This approach will help you create a character that is not only visually appealing but also has a unique personality and backstory that will resonate with your audience.

Virtual influencers have opened up new possibilities for brands and companies looking to engage with their audiences in a unique and innovative way. By creating a well-designed virtual influencer that represents your company and resonates with your audience, you can connect with your customers and build brand loyalty like never before. Remember to follow the common sense rules for creating a virtual influencer and to break down individual segments and attributes of the character when designing it. By doing so, you can create a comprehensive and well-developed character tree that will serve as a blueprint for your virtual influencer. As technology continues to evolve, it’s likely that virtual influencers will become even more prominent in the marketing space, making it more important than ever to get ahead of the curve and create your own virtual influencer.

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Eugene Capon

Social Media Futurist. Public Speaker. New Media Artist. Co-founder of Studio Capon. #VR #AR #Tech #Youtube #Design