Virtual influencer marketing: the good, the bad and the unreal

Simone Lykke Tranholm Mouritzen*, Valeria Penttinen, Susanne Pedersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to conceptualize virtual influencer marketing, outlining the opportunities and dangers associated with using virtual influencers in social media marketing communications.

Drawing on the literature addressing influencer marketing and interactions between consumers and technologies, this paper introduces the landscape of virtual influencer marketing.

This paper distinguishes virtual influencers from real-life influencers and related digital characters. It further defines four unique elements attributed to virtual influencers: customization, flexibility, ownership and automation. Finally, it introduces a taxonomy for virtual influencers.

Research limitations/implications
The conceptualization of virtual influencer marketing contributes to advancing the understanding of the (virtual) influencer marketing landscape.

Practical implications
This paper suggests that brands need to carefully evaluate the different characteristics of virtual influencers, when deciding to leverage them in social media marketing communications. It also provides guidelines for working with virtual influencers in marketing campaigns targeted at consumers.

Social implications
This paper discusses ethical and social implications for brands and consumers that interact with virtual influencers in the encounter between reality and virtuality.

This paper makes three contributions. First, it conceptualizes virtual influencer marketing by defining and critically evaluating the key characteristics attributed to virtual influencers. Second, it offers a 2 × 2 taxonomy of virtual influencers, grounded in research on anthropomorphism and reality–virtuality. Third, this paper reflects on the opportunities and dangers associated with virtual influencer marketing, outlining avenues for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Publication statusPublished - 08.06.2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • virtual influencers
  • influencer marketing
  • anthropomorphism
  • reality-virtuality

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Competition economics and service strategy - Service and customer-oriented management
  • AoS: Responsible organising


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