Virtual influencers, generated on the computer, are changing the advertising industry. More and more brands utilize virtual instead of human influencers as endorsers for their marketing campaigns for a variety of reasons, such as better control of the influencer’s behavior, cost savings, or zeitgeist motives (desire to be 'up to date'). However, there is currently little research on whether significant advertising goals are achieved using virtual influencers. The authors analyze, in an initial study, whether consumers find such influencers appealing compared to human influencers and whether they are able to identify that the influencer is not real. The results show that consumers find it difficult to identify virtual influencers as such and that they still have more positive attitudes toward human endorsers in advertising campaigns. However, virtual endorsers can lead to higher perceived ad novelty. In a second study, they further examine whether the advertised product category functions as a moderator. Results show that perceived congruence between virtual influencers and product is dependent on the product category and leads to higher advertising effectiveness. The studies lead to the implication that marketers should carefully consider the use of virtual influencers in accordance with the aspired advertising goals and brand values.
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