Virtual Influencer Marketing: The Good, the Bad, and the Unreal

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Pages (from-to)410-440
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Anthropomorphism
  • Influencer marketing
  • Reality–virtuality
  • Virtual influencers


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