The digital universe, with the metaverse in the making, forces us to renew concepts. Once we have assumed the professions of 'youtuber', 'streamer', 'tiktoker' or 'influencer', we must get used to a new job, that of 'Vtuber'. Lil Miquela, a Californian teenage model, accumulates three million followers on Instagram. She is linked to 'streetstyle' fashion and luxury, she promotes brands such as Calvin Klein or Prada and walks through festivals rubbing shoulders with the celebrities of the moment, such as Rosalía. She has graced magazine covers, interviews, she has been named one of the 25 most influential people on the internet by 'Times' magazine and one of her singles exceeds 45 million streams on Spotify. So far everything normal. The different? It is a virtual creation, an animated character created by computer that was born as a marketing tool.
And it seems that it is paying off: it bills more than 10 million euros in advertising revenue, 353 times more than the average worker in Europe.
But Miquela, along with other 'Vtubers' like Bermuda or Blawko who could be confused with people of flesh and blood, are the evolution of a phenomenon that began in Japan a decade ago. Ami Yamato, who is considered the first 'Vtuber', began uploading videos of her in 2011. Other 3D virtual avatars (mostly female) with an aesthetic based on Japanese animation followed. Today they represent a real source of income and many big brands use them in their advertising campaigns. The earnings of a Vtuber can range between 100,000 euros or one million per month. Currently, with a strong market established in Asia and the United States, there may be more than 10,000 'Vtubers'. “They inherit an Asian-inspired narrative. They are not clearly anime profiles, but they are inspired by that culture," explains Cristóbal Álvarez, ESIC professor and specialist in marketing and Asian markets.
The first time the term 'virtual youtuber' was used was in 2016 and it was done by Kizuna AI, a young woman with a giant pink bow, long hair and a bow on her chest. In 2018, YouTube awarded him the gold button for reaching one million followers. She surpassed the figure of six million fans on her channel, but a few months ago she announced that she was taking an indefinite hiatus.
Behind these characters there are companies that direct the development and commercial exploitation. And although the Vtubers are totally digital characters, to start them up requires technology, innovation and a whole team of producers, animators, voice actresses and video editors: behind Lil Miquela there is a team of more than 20 people.
For Álvarez, the reason for their attraction is that "they connect with related communities and know how to produce the most appropriate content for each moment." Can they replace humans? “At the moment there is no such forecast. It is a massive, important phenomenon, but it is not threatening”, says Álvarez, who also points out that in Spain it is still in its infancy. The follow-up of him does not have the scope of other countries, such as Japan and China, but work is already being done within the marketing ecosystem ». At the moment it interests minority communities who are fans of video games, anime and manga. One of the 'Vtubers' with the most followers is Aphrodi Vainilla with 2,500 subscribers on YouTube. And not to be left behind, youtubers like El Rubius have already created their virtual version.
The big brands have noticed the pull of these characters and have signed up to take advantage. Netflix, for example, has launched its Vtuber, N-ko Mei Kurono. Although already in 2015 Barbie went ahead and promoted her digital creation that now has more than ten million followers on YouTube.
Aware of the marketing possibilities, Santiago Cerdán, director and founder of the Spanish startup Avataria, creates specific characters for brands. “The avatar can be as real as the creator wants. There are different typologies, some resemble dolls with an anime touch and others are more realistic, metahumans. Technology and innovation are key, doubles are created through photometry and then that character becomes an avatar. The secret and the challenge is that he moves as you move, that he transmits emotions and takes him to a real environment ». For Cerdán, "the advantage of a 'vtuber' is that it allows a brand to control the message" and he is clear that the future metaverse, whether it is called that or not, will be the kingdom of avatars.