Forever Young, Beautiful and Free from Scandals: The Rise of Virtual Influencers in South Korea

She has more than 130,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts pictures of her adventures around the world. Her makeup is always flawless, and her clothes look right on the runway. She sings, dances, and models – and none of it is real.

Rosie is a South Korean “virtual influencer,” a human being so digitally transformed that she is often mistaken for flesh and blood.

“Are you a real person?” One of her fans asks her on Instagram. Are you an artificial intelligence or a robot?

according to Rozy is the company created by and based in Seoul, a mixture of the three who are spread between the real and virtual worlds.

Sidus Studio X says on its website that it is “capable of doing everything that humans cannot do…in its most human-like form.”

That includes making billions of dollars in advertising and entertainment for the company.

Since launching in 2020, Rozy has secured deals with brands and sponsorships, opened the catwalk at virtual fashion shows, and even released two singles.

And she is not alone.

The ‘virtual human’ industry is booming, and with it a whole new economy in which the influencers of the future are never aging, free from scandal and digitally flawless – causing concern among some in a country already obsessed with unobtainable beauty standards.

How virtual influencers work

The CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology behind Rozy is nothing new. It is omnipresent in today’s entertainment industry, with artists using it to craft realistic non-human characters in movies, computer games, and music videos.

But it has only recently been used in the composition of influencers.

Sometimes Sidus Studio X creates a head-to-toe photo of Rozy using technology, a method that works well with her Instagram photos. Other times, she places her head on top of a human model’s body – for example when she’s designing clothes.

Image of Lucy, the virtual Korean human used by Lotte Home Shopping.

Image of Lucy, the virtual Korean human used by Lotte Home Shopping. attributed to him: Courtesy Lotte Home Shopping

South Korean retailer Lotte Home Shopping has created a virtual influencer – Lucy, who has 78,000 followers on Instagram – with software typically used for video games.

Like their real-life counterparts, virtual influencers are building a following through social media, where they post snapshots of their “life” and interact with their fans. Rosie’s account shows that she is “traveling” to Singapore and enjoying a glass of wine on a rooftop while her fans complete her outfit.

Older generations Dealing with a fake person can be a bit weird. But experts say virtual influencers have struck a chord in young Koreans. Digital natives who spend most of their lives online.

Lee Na-kyoung, a 23-year-old who lives in Incheon, started following Rozy about two years ago thinking she was a real person.

Rosie followed her back, occasionally commenting on her posts, and a virtual friendship blossomed—one that lasted even after Lee found out the truth.

We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her – so I don’t consider her an AI girlfriend but a real friend.”

“I love Rosie’s content,” Lee added. “She’s so beautiful I can’t believe she’s artificial intelligence.”

profitable business

Social media not only enables virtual influencers to build a fan base – it is where the money flows.

rosy Instagram, for example, is full of sponsored content where it advertises skin care and fashion products.

“Many major companies in Korea would like to use Rozy as a model,” said Baek Sung Yup, CEO of Sidus Studio X. This year, we expect to easily reach over KRW 2 billion (about $1.52 million) in earnings, just with Rosie.”

He added that as Rousey’s popularity increased, the company gained more sponsorship from luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermès, as well as other magazines and media companies. Her ads have now appeared on TV, and even in offline places like billboards and bus sides.

Lotte expects similar profits this year from Lucy, who has brought in advertising offers from financial and construction firms, according to Lee Bo-hyun, director of media business at Lotte Home Shopping.

Models are in high demand because they help brands reach younger consumers, experts say. Rozy’s clients include a life insurance company and a bank – companies that are usually seen as old-fashioned. “But they say their image got too small after working with Rosie,” Pike said.

It also helps that, compared to some of their real-life counterparts, these new stars are low-maintenance.

It takes Lotte and Sidus Studio X between a few hours And two days to create a picture of their stars, and two days to a few weeks for a video ad. This is much less time and labor than required To produce a commercial that showcases real human beings – weeks or months can be spent exploring the site and setting up logistics such as lighting, hair, makeup, design, food, and post-production editing.

And perhaps just as important: hypothetical influencers don’t age, tire, or provoke controversy.

He told me that Lott decided to choose the default influencer when thinking about how to maximize “software hosts.”

He told me that Lotte Home Shopping hires human hosts to advertise products on TV – but they “cost a lot” and “there will be changes when they get old”. So, they reached out to Lucy, who is “forever 29 years old.”

“Lucy is not limited to time or place,” he added. “She can appear anywhere. And there There are no ethical problems.”

A question about beauty

South Korea isn’t the only place that has embraced virtual influencers.

Among the world’s most famous virtual influencers are Lil Miquela, created by the founders of an American tech startup, who has endorsed brands including Calvin Klein and Prada and has over 3 million followers on Instagram; Lu of Magalu, created by a Brazilian retail company, with nearly 6 million followers on Instagram; and FNMeka, the rapper created by the music company Factory New, with over 10 million followers on TikTok.

But there is one major difference, according to Lee Eun-hee, a professor in Inha University’s Department of Consumer Sciences: Virtual influencers in other countries tend to reflect a variety of ethnic backgrounds and beauty ideals.

She added that virtual humans in other places enjoy “exclusivity”, while “those in Korea are always beautiful and beautiful… (reflecting) the values ​​of each country.”

Photo of Rosie, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea.

Photo of Rosie, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea. attributed to him: Sidus Studio X

And in South Korea – it is often called the “plastic surgery capital of the world” for its prosperity 10.7 billion dollars Industry – There are concerns that virtual influencers could promote unrealistic beauty standards.
Younger Koreans are starting to fall back on these ideals In recent years, sparking a movement in 2018 dubbed “Escape from a corset. “

But ideas about what is considered beautiful in the country are still narrow; For women, this usually means a small figure with big eyes, a small face, and a clear, pale complexion.

And these features are shared by most of the country’s virtual influencers; Lucy has perfect skin, long shiny hair, a slender jawline and a slender nose. Rosie has plump lips, long legs and a flat stomach that appears under the tops of her crop.

Lee Eun-hee has warned that virtual influencers like Rozy and Lucy may be making the beauty standards Korea originally demand unattainable — and the demand for plastic surgery or cosmetics is growing among women seeking to emulate them.

“Real women want to be like themselves, and men want to date people of the same appearance,” she said.

Image of Lucy, the virtual Korean human used by Lotte Home Shopping.

Image of Lucy, the virtual Korean human used by Lotte Home Shopping. attributed to him: Courtesy Lotte Home Shopping

The creators of Rozy and Lucy reject such criticism.

Lotte actor Lee Bo Hyun said that they tried to make Lucy more than a “beautiful picture” by crafting an elaborate story and character. She studied industrial design and works in automobile design. She posts about her job and interests, such as her love for animals and kimbap – rice rolls coated with seaweed. In this way, “Lucy strives to make a good impact in society,” he told me, adding, “It sends a message to the audience ‘to do what you want to do according to your beliefs’.”

Paik, CEO of Sidus Studio X, said that Rosé is not what “anyone would call pretty” and that the company deliberately tried to make her appearance unique and veer away from traditional Korean mores. He pointed to the freckles on her cheeks and wide eyes.

“Rosie is showing people the importance of inner trust,” he added. “There are other hypothetical humans who are very beautiful…but I made Rozy to show that you can still be beautiful (even without a traditionally attractive face).”

digital black interface

But the concerns go beyond Korean beauty standards. There is controversy elsewhere in the world On the ethics of marketing products to consumers who don’t realize models aren’t human either The danger of cultural appropriation when creating influencers of different races – some describe it as “digital black.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, which has more than 200 virtual influencers on its platforms, has acknowledged the risks.

“Like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and freedom of expression are indeed a growing concern,” the company said in a statement. Blog post.

“To help brands navigate the ethical pitfalls of this emerging medium and avoid potential risks, META is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of[virtual influencers].”

But one thing seems clear: the industry is here to stay. With the booming interest in the digital world – starting from metaverse Virtual Reality Technologies to Cryptocurrency – Companies say virtual influencers are the next frontier.
Photo of Rosie, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea.

Photo of Rosie, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea. attributed to him: Sidus Studio X

Lotte hopes that Lucy will move from advertising to entertainment, perhaps by appearing in a television drama. The company is also working on a virtual human that will attract shoppers in their 40s to 60s.

Sidus Studio X has big ambitions too; Rozy will be launching her own cosmetics brand in August, in addition to NFT (Non-replaceable code), and the company hopes to create a virtual tri-pop to take over the music charts.

Pike notes that most fans do not meet real celebrities in person, but only see them on the screens. He said that “there is not much difference between hypothetical humans and the real-life celebrities who love them”.

“We want to change perceptions of how people think about hypothetical humans,” Pike added. “What we’re doing is not taking people’s jobs away, but doing things that humans can’t do, like working 24 hours or creating unique content like walking in the sky.