L’Oréal Group this week announced its first-ever virtual idol, an anime-style two-dimensional character named Mr Ou. The idol, who is described as being a 24-year-old, Chinese-French entrepreneur who cares for the environment and works within the beauty industry, will be tapped to contribute content on L’Oréal’s social media channels related to beauty trends, ingredients, sustainability initiatives, as well as interviews with influencers (know as Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs in China) and celebrities.
The virtual idol industry in China has exploded in recent years. According to a 2019 report on virtual idols released by Chinese streaming giant iQiyi, 64 percent of people aged 14 to 24 were followers of virtual idols and last year, on Bilibili, there was a 225 percent year-on-year increase in the monthly average viewing time of virtual idol livestreams.
As real life celebrity and KOL endorsement prices skyrocket in the China market, the relatively small investment in a virtual idol is certainly a cost-effective move from L’Oréal, but it remains to be seen whether virtual idols can inspire the same kind of fervid devotion among fans that Chinese celebrities boast.