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Meet Imma

Ikea enlists a virtual influencer for phygital installation


Every other Wednesday, h/commerce provides in-depth analysis of the most impactful trends reshaping retail.

Since several years now, the virtual influencers are storming out social media, and the phenomenon is getting even bigger in times of the social distancing. The ‘‘traditional’’ influencer marketing has seen a lot of downsides due to the global pandemic crisis, with influencers cancelling their travels and events, as well as the advertisers cancelling their campaigns.

While there are still some limitations for social influencers, the virtual ones can continue their work and remain unaffected of what is happening outside of the digital realm.

The idea of computer-generated models or social media figures have sparked some years ago. A whole army of virtual models was summoned by luxury fashion house Balmain in summer 2018 campaign. The Instagram users are already accustomed to Lil Miquela – the queen of the virtual influencers, who has established her presence in the fashion and beauty world in 2016 when she was created. Ever since, this 19-year-old ultra-cool poster child of the trend (boasting 2,7 million followers on Instagram) has starred in a music video, “shown up” at Coachella festival and become the face of Calvin Klein campaign along with the real-life supermodel Bella Hadid.

Due to the global pandemic, the world of beauty, fashion and arts moves beyond the human form and explores new digital forms of expression. A logical consequence is the growing interest of brands in using virtual characters.

Meet Imma


If you haven’t heard of imma, you might be surprised that she is not real. This Tokyo-based it-girl is named after the Japanese word “ima” meaning “now”. She is a computer-generated hyper-realistic avatar who – like many of her human counterparts – is interested in fashion and dyes her hair pink. Her creators – the CG artists from Tokyo-based ModelingCafe Inc. studio have created a virtual personality elaborated to the smallest detail – from facial expressions and flawless skin to distinctive hairstyle and mastered backgrounds. While Lil Miquela might be the biggest virtual influencer, imma is definitely the most realistic one.

Imma posing with real-life models for a makeup editorial in i-D Japan magazine. Credits: PR Times, Japan Today

Apart from her realistic appearance, imma regularly ‘‘visits’’ art exhibitions and live performances. She collaborates with artists and actively promotes them to her followers. What is more, imma represents a new breed of virtual influencers that land deals outside fashion or beauty industry. Today, the Tokyo virtual fashionista with edgy Kawaii style counts 250k followers and is the newest ambassador for Ikea in Japan.

imma wearing Ikea apparel line released in Japan at the beginning of summer

imma x Ikea Japan

Earlier this year in February, the Swedish retailer enlisted imma to front the lookbook for the first self-designed fashion collection signed Ikea, as well as opening events of new stores across the country, including the small city-centre formats. In the lead up to the opening of the newest one in the popular Harajuku shopping district in Tokyo, Ikea presented something unusual and unique, a reminiscent of Blade Runner futuristic advertising. A phygital installation starring imma and her digital home was created at Ikea window display. For three days, those passing by could peer into imma’s house and watch her sleeping, doing yoga, checking up her smartphone or doing vacuum cleaning.

You can watch the recap of the whole three days event here.

The installation was opened to the public at midnight 28th of August, and it amazed the passers-by with its execution and realism. In order to connect the digital world and the real world perfectly, imma’s room was continuously adjusted to the light and temperature of the environment. On the first floor of the store, imma’s living room was shown on select screens. On the second floor of the store (that could be also viewed from the Harajuku metro station located next to the store) the passers-by could have a view into imma’s bedroom.

Just like the influencer, her living room and bedroom didn’t exist in the physical world. It was digitally modelled for the event, and Ikea Japan described that imma had “curated” the rooms herself, to show how she would make full use of a typical Tokyo-sized small flat.

Moulinex - Liveshopping

Source: Ikea Japan Website

What is more, the users can find imma’s flat at the company’s website, where the influencer is giving her tips on how to organize and personalize a house. A virtual personality expressing herself about personalization is truly a sign of our times.

Why is it interesting?

With an estimated 3 billion people using social media all over the world, the influence marketing has seen brand dollars flood into the space. According to Business Insider Intelligence estimations (based on Mediakix data), brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. With International Data Corporation (IDC) predicting that the spending on AI systems will more than double to $79.2 billion in 2022, it is not hard to imagine how brands and companies could blend those two disciplines.

Partnering with influencers is already a must strategy to brands, but the market is undergoing constant change, and brands need to continually evolve their moves accordingly. Influencer marketing has seen a lot of downsides recently and the advantages of digital influencers are apparent. Brands can build their own social media ambassadors from the ground up, create their personality and control every message reducing the risk. They can be anywhere at any time, photographed in any way, work 24/7. As we can see, even the influencer marketing industry faces the risk of human replacement.

What is more, the virtual influencers generate a significantly higher engagement rate (12% of engagement rate) than their real counterparts (5% of engagement rate) – this, despite a high percentage of virtual influencers not posting regularly. (source: Hype Auditor).

Virtual influencers are original, quirky gimmicks and brand collaborations like imma and Ikea are definitively newsworthy. Hyper-realistic CGI characters are becoming more and more present on social media – a phenomenon strengthened by lockdown measures and the appearance of new digital communities creating the whole new vague of digital forms of art. What makes the virtual assistants appealing is sort of mystery, curiosity they spark and the way they get alive on our eyes through the social media feed.

The influencer market is rapidly expanding, with influencers filling every imaginable niche and sub-niche interest. The virtual influencers remain an interesting phenomenon to observe, notably for brands searching for new opportunities. As the pandemic resulted in a great shift towards digital forms of expression and the new vague of virtual experiences, we can expect that CGI influencer branding will ramp up at a faster pace.

Story to be followed.

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