The Rise of Influential Virtual Characters in Korea

A young girl has more than 130,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts pictures of her adventures around the world. Her makeup is always impeccable, her outfits are always flat and trendy. She sings, dances and models – and none of the above is REAL.

Rozy is a Korean “virtual figure of influence”, a digitally rendered character so realistic that she is often mistaken for a flesh-and-blood human.

“Are you a real person?” one of the fan on her Instagram asked so.

According to the company that created her based in Seoul, Rozy is an amalgamation of all three individuals living between the real world and the real world. virtual.

She “can do everything humans can’t… in her most human-like form,” says Sidus Studio X on the company’s website.

And one of the possibilities that Rozy can do well is to profit the company in the multi-billion dollar world of advertising and entertainment.

Since debuting in 2020, Rozy has landed advertising and sponsorship deals, stood on the catwalk in virtual fashion shows, and has even released two singles.

And she’s not alone.

The “virtual character” industry is booming and with it a whole new economy, the telltale sign of them never getting old, scandal-free and perfect in appearance.

Lucy, the Korean virtual person used by Lotte Home Shopping. Photo: CNN

How virtual influencers work

Technology The CGI (computer-generated imagery) behind Rozy is not new. It’s ubiquitous in today’s entertainment industry, where artists use it to create superhero characters in movies, computer games, and music videos.

But it was only recently used to create people fictional influence .

At one point, Sidus Studio X created a head-to-toe image of Rozy using technology, a good approach to her Instagram image. But there are times when the company cuts her head onto a model’s body – like when she’s doing a clothing ad.

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

Like real-life “colleagues”, influential fictional characters build their following through social media, where they post snapshots of their “life” and interact with fans. . The Rozy account said she was “traveling” to Singapore and enjoying a glass of wine on the rooftop while fans complimented her outfit.

Older generations might consider interacting with a fictional character a bit odd. However, experts say the influential “virtual people” have collaborated with young Koreans, who spend most of their lives on social networking sites.

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

Rozy also interacted again. Occasionally comment on Lee Na-kyoung’s posts, and a virtual friendship has blossomed – a friendship that persisted even after Lee discovered the truth.

“We communicate as friends and I feel comfortable around her – so I don’t see her as an AI but as a real friend,” Ms. Lee said. “I love the content that Rozy shares. She’s so pretty I can’t believe she’s an AI.”

A profitable business

Social media doesn’t just allow influential fictional characters to build fan clubs – that’s where the money comes in.

The Rise of Influential Virtual Characters in Korea | Living

Rozy “check-in” in Singapore

For example, Rozy’s Instagram posts sponsored content where she promotes fashion and skincare products.

Baik Seung-yup, CEO of Sidus Studio X. said, “Many big companies in Korea want to use Rozy as a model. Only with Rozy.”

He added that as Rozy has grown in popularity, the company has received more sponsorships from luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermes, as well as magazines and other media companies. Her commercials have now appeared on television and even in offline spaces like billboards and bus bodies.

The Rise of Influential Virtual Characters in Korea | Living

Lucy, a fictional character who is also influential in Korea

According to Lee Bo-hyun, director of Lotte Home Shopping’s media business, Lotte expects similar profits this year from Lucy, who has received advertising offers from finance and construction companies. .

CNN quoted Korean economic experts as saying that contracts with fictional characters are increasing day by day, as they help brands reach younger consumers. Rozy’s clients include a life insurance company and a bank – companies that are often seen as outdated and difficult to reach young people. Mr. Baik shared that the image of the partner has become very youthful after collaborating with Rozy.

Another advantage is that compared to some real-life stars, these fictional stars will not need to spend a lot of effort to maintain their appearance.

Lotte and Sidus Studio X take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to create their stars, and from two days to weeks for a promotional video. Much less time and effort is required to produce an ad using real people – work that can take them weeks or months to find locations and prepare logistics such as lighting, hairdressing and makeup, styling, shooting, and post-production.

And, perhaps just as important: influential virtual people never age, tire or start an argument.

According to Director Lee, Lotte decided to choose an influential virtual person considering how to maximize “hosts”.

Lotte Home Shopping hires presenters to advertise products on TV – but they “cost quite a bit” and “will have to change as they get older”, Mr. Lee said. So they found Lucy, who was “forever 29 years old.”

“Lucy is not limited in time and space. She can appear anywhere. And there are no moral issues.”

What is the beauty standard?

The Rise of Influential Virtual Characters in Korea | Living

Rozy is “spotless” beautiful and forever young

South Korea isn’t the only place that attracts influential fictional characters.

Among the world’s most famous influential fictional characters is Lil Miquela, created by the co-founders of an American tech startup who has collaborated with 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, a rapper created by music company Factory New, with over 10 million TikTok followers.

But there is one big difference, according to Professor Lee Eun-hee, Department of Consumer Science of Inha University, influential virtual people in other countries tend to reflect ethnic and cultural diversity. beauty standards in a unique way, while “virtual characters in Korea are always “beautifully” made.

And in South Korea — often dubbed the “plastic surgery center of the world” with a booming $10.7 billion industry — there are concerns that influential virtual characters have a negative impact. may continue to promote unrealistic beauty standards. This often means that the standard of beauty must include a petite figure with large eyes, a small face, and fair, pale skin.

And these features apply to most of the influential virtual people in Korea. Lucy has perfect skin, long lustrous hair, a slim jawline, and a high nose. Rozy has full lips, long legs and a flat stomach that peeks out from under a crop top.

Professor Lee Eun-hee warns that virtual influencers like Rozy and Lucy could make Korea’s already strict beauty standards harder to achieve – and increase demand for plastic surgery. or cosmetic products in women seeking to imitate them.

‘Dark side of digital technology’

But the concern goes beyond Korean beauty standards. In some countries, public opinion is controversial about the ethics of marketing products to consumers using non-human models, as well as the risk of cultural influence when creating influencers of different ethnicities.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has over 200An influential virtual person on his platform, has acknowledged the risks.

But one thing is clear: the industry will survive as interest in the digital world explodes – from hyper-reality technology to digital currency – the companies claim Influential fiction is the next step.

Lotte is hoping Lucy will transition from advertising to entertainment, perhaps by appearing in a TV series. The company is also working on a virtual persona that will appeal to shoppers in their 40s to 60s.

Sidus Studio X also has big ambitions; Rozy will launch her own cosmetic brand in August, as well as a personal NFT code, and the company hopes to create a virtual pop trio to take over the music charts.

Mr. Baik pointed out that most fans don’t meet real celebrities in person, but only see them on screen. So “there is no big difference between virtual people and the real-life celebrities they like”.

Although there is still a lot of controversy over the use or abuse of images of influential fictional characters in all areas of life, the producers convey a desire to change the perception of how people think about virtual people. They assert that doing this is not about taking people’s jobs, but about doing things that humans can’t do, such as working 24 hours or creating unique content that humans can’t. can be done.

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