Thesis

Master's thesis on Virtual Influencer Marketing with multiple research perspectives (Summer semester 2022)

Key Info

Basic Information

Group:
Lehr- und Forschungsgebiet Dienstleistungs- und Technologiemarketing
Level:
Master

Supervisor

Virtual influencers are artificial computer-generated imagery (CGI) or interactive avatars that resemble human influencers in a number of ways.
They share various types of online content and can be "followed," but they are not human. The most popular virtual influencer today is Lil Miquela, who - despite openly admitting she is not human - has over 3 million followers. Created in 2016 by transmedia studio Brud, the "eternal 19-year-old robot who lives in LA" collaborates with luxury fashion brands like Prada, interacts with real people like Bella Hadid in a commercial for Calvin Klein, and sings.

Given their popularity and growing numbers, virtual influencers are likely to have a profound impact on a variety of marketing activities in the future, although the details are still largely unknown. As computing power and artificial intelligence algorithms continue to advance, research predicts that the importance and social media presence of virtual influencers will increase in the near future. This should encourage both brand managers and academics to examine the processes, relationships, and trajectories of influencer engagement and their impact on consumers.

These issues have become particularly relevant recently due to two factors: first, the pandemic and increasing strategic use of the online space; and second, the anticipated expansion of avatar-driven interactive options that could push online engagements further into the mainstream.

This results in a variety of highly topical and interesting research fields that can be addressed in a master's thesis within the scope of the topic offered here:

Research questions considering the research perspective may include:

1. consumer perspective:
What are the similarities and differences in the behavior of followers of human and virtual influencers?
What are the motivations that drive consumers to follow virtual influencers?
What are the barriers to consumer openness to virtual influencers and how can they be overcome?
How are virtual influencers perceived by younger generations of consumers such as Millennials and Gen Z?
What psychological aspects are associated with following virtual influencers, e.g., self-image, self-concept, body image, buying behavior, etc.?
Is parasocial relationship theory best suited to explain the relationships between consumers and virtual influencers?

2. brand perspective:
What are the risks and benefits of incorporating virtual influencers into a brand's strategy?
How can brands from different industries (e.g. luxury, sports, hospitality, etc.) interact with virtual influencers?
What are the successful and unsuccessful cases of interactions between brands and virtual influencers and what can we learn from them?
Are human and virtual influencers complementary or contradictory? In other words, do brands have to choose?
What goal can virtual influencers achieve as part of a marketing strategy?

3. influencer perspective:
What are the unique qualities and characteristics of human influencers that virtual influencers lack, and vice versa?
Can virtual influencers complement the work of human influencers?
Does the gender of the influencer matter when promoting products or services?
What are the characteristics of virtual influencers that can increase consumer trust in them?

4. Society perspective:
What are the opportunities and risks of the emergence of virtual influencers in addressing important societal issues (racism, gender equality, LGBT+ environmental issues...)?
Can virtual influencers be effectively used to promote actions related to sustainability and well-being?
How can consumers be given transparent and understandable information about a commercial relationship between a virtual influencer and a brand?
What impact do virtual influencers have on tourism, destination image, travel decisions or visit intentions?

5. technology perspective:
How might virtual robots reshape the world of social media?
What aspects of technology motivate people on social media to follow virtual influencers?
Why do virtual influencers livestream? What can contribute to a successful livestreaming experience?
What are the key factors that contribute to the successful use of virtual influencers for social commerce?

Students interested in writing a master's thesis in this topic area can send an e-mail with a CV (1 page) and transcript of records to heiko.holz@time.rwth-aachen.de.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Keywords: Influencer Marketing, Virtual Influencer, Social Media Marketing, Instagram, YouTube, Branding