The avatar can be an extension of a brand's digital identity, as well as a part of the overall consumer experience, and .XYZ’s Jasmine Lai says there are three ways for a brand to harness the power of these virtual characters.

The Cambridge dictionary defines an avatar as “a character or creature that you create to represent yourself in a computer game, on the internet, etc.”

Initially designed as digital alter egos in virtual worlds, avatars today are seamlessly integrated across various platforms, from social media and virtual reality experiences to mainstream pop culture.

The use of avatars in pop culture has been transformative, from K-pop group Aespa's augmented reality concert featuring digital avatars of themselves, to Mave – an entirely virtual, hyper-realistic, AI-generated South Korean girl group by Metaverse Entertainment.

The latest advancement in this domain is Meta's introduction of AI Celebrity Avatars. These virtual characters, mirroring celebrities such as Charli D’Amelio and Kendall Jenner, enable users to interact with their favourite stars in a way akin to engaging with actual influencers.

(from left) K-pop Aespa and their digital Avatars, Mave, an entirely virtual girl group, and Meta’s AI Avatars

This expansion of avatars from virtual gaming worlds to mainstream pop culture is a testament to their versatility and growing importance in our online lives. Digital interactions are already an integral part of our daily routines; avatars offer novel ways for individuals and brands to express themselves and connect with others in the constantly shifting digital landscape.

Harnessing the power of avatars for your brand

We are just at the tip of the iceberg. Avatarisation holds transformative potential through advancements in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), deep learning (DL) and artificial intelligence (AI). These technological innovations promise an unprecedented level of realism and functionality, progressively narrowing the gap between reality and the virtual world.

“The paradigm is not human versus machine – it's really machine augmenting human,” said Affectiva CEO, Rana el Kaliouby.

The digital landscape is evolving fast. It's imperative for brands not just to observe but proactively embrace, anticipate and lead at the intersection of marketing and technology. This means moving from tactical, hype-driven strategies, to focusing on offering lasting value and utility that will transform consumer engagement in meaningful ways.

We recognise the potential of avatars in crafting unique brand experiences. At .XYZ, we have identified three innovative ways for brands to leverage this technology.

1. Avatar as a brand’s digital identity

The nature of avatars enables brands to design digital personas that embed their distinctive brand assets (DBAs). These personas can evolve into iconic symbols of the brand, akin to traditional mascots or spokespersons, in the digital space.

(from left) KFC’s Colonel Sanders VI, and Wendy’s in Fortnite

Fast food chains like Wendy's and KFC have adopted distinctive personalities for their avatars, embracing unique characteristics and styles that resonate with their audiences on Fortnite and Instagram.

However, the true potential of avatars lies in their capacity for AI integration, allowing the training of avatars to align with a brand’s core values and tone. This not only enhances the authenticity of the avatar's interactions but also ensures consistency in how the brand is perceived across various platforms. This approach gives brands greater control and ownership over their representation. Rather than depending on the credibility of external influencers, brands can leverage their own DBAs, ensuring a more authentic and consistent brand image.

The avatar as a brand’s digital identity helps preserve brand integrity and open new avenues for creative expression and engagement. It represents a leap from mere digital representation to a more profound, dynamic brand identity.

2. Avatar as a consumer touchpoint or engagement

In today’s digital-first landscape, engaging consumers effectively is paramount and avatars present a unique opportunity to revolutionise these interactions.

(from left) Coca-Cola China Metaverse, #RealMomsVillage on U-COINville, and DBS’s BetterWorld with 5 Quest Masters/Avatars’ journey and approach to mitigate food waste

An example of this is seen with Unilever Philippines’s Baby Dove #RealMomsVillage, a safe space for first-time moms to connect with other moms while learning childcare techniques, and Coca-Cola's metaverse campaign in China, where users can create their own Coca-Cola avatars and explore the virtual space to shop, play and meet “celebrities”. These showcase that the avatar can significantly enhance brand engagement in immersive virtual spaces.

The potential of avatars goes far beyond short-term tactical campaigns. There is a significant opportunity to infuse them with real utility for sustained brand-consumer engagement. Powered by generative AI, avatars offer brands 24/7 availability and consistent on-brand interaction. They have the capabilities to respond to inquiries in real-time, learn from interactions, provide personalised recommendations and even adapt their personalities based on user preferences.

Avatars will redefine customer engagement, serving as interactive touchpoints and acting as the brand's digital face. They will elevate existing interaction far beyond traditional digital formats, creating more intuitive and memorable experiences for consumers.

3. Avatar as a brand experience extension

Avatars are emerging as powerful tools for extending the brand experience. These virtual representations are now stepping out into the physical world, offering innovative ways to connect with consumers.

(from left) Imma at Ikea shop window, Angelababy’s avatar Angela 3.0, Ling and CallmeVila at Viktor&Rolf fragrance launch

Ikea's collaboration with virtual influencer Imma in shop displays and the Viktor&Rolf fragrance launch featuring China’s top virtual influencers, including Angelababy’s avatar Angela 3.0, illustrate how avatars bring a modern twist to brand activities, blending the digital and physical worlds.

While this is a significant step forward, there is a larger opportunity to utilise avatars further in real-life brand extensions. Beyond novel appearances, avatars can fulfil functional roles within marketing strategies, enhancing the overall brand experience. With AI and data analytics integration, avatars can offer sophisticated, adaptive interactions – like a virtual shopping assistant guiding customers through a tailored buying journey or serving as digital stand-ins at events, enriching engagement and memorability.

The key is to leverage avatars not just as extensions of the brand's digital identity but as integral components of the overall consumer experience.