Missed out on attending Cannes 2023? Find out what happened when Dentsu Creative’s client, CapitaLand brought their Virtual Influencer, Rae, onto the stage to share their journey. Find out more about our virtual influencer offering, Dentsu VI here.
Rae is one of Asia's top virtual influencers. She has over a million fans on Instagram and Weibo and has sold out her streetwear collection. She has performed on stage alongside celebrities and has been featured in global fashion magazines. More than just a virtual model, Rae also launched NFTs to support STEM education for girls to encourage more of them to study science, technology, engineering, and math. Her future as a virtual celebrity, looks bright.
Even as her popularity grew, the story behind Rae has been kept under wraps until recently, and it’s one that is inspiring global Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to consider entering the world of Virtual Influencers. Bee Leng Tan, Managing Director of Digital Ventures at CapitaLand Investment was joined by Stan Lim, Chief Creative Officer at Dentsu Creative Singapore, to share this story and the learnings around the creation of a virtual influencer.
CapitaLand, one of Asia's largest diversified real estate groups, created Rae in 2020 during the global COVID pandemic. With over 1,200 properties, spanning more than 260 cities in over 40 countries, the company faced an unprecedented operating challenge when lockdowns meant that tenants, shop owners, and consumers were stuck at home. With very few people hitting the malls and travelling overseas, retail sales and hotel occupancy rates were at record lows.
CapitaLand’s tenants, shoppers, and hotel guests were the top priority and the team had to find ways to help tide through the pandemic. Bee Leng explained, “Beyond business continuity, we also knew that we had to start thinking about future-ready initiatives that will position us as a forward-looking company that will emerge stronger after the pandemic.”
CapitaLand knew people were spending more time online and that online stores were exploding in popularity, but a key moment came with the realization that more than ever, people were craving social connections.
“Business as usual is no longer good enough and we must think differently,” said Bee Leng.
The idea for Rae was born: beyond an AI influencer or AI Instagram model, Rae was designed as a virtual person, who can go to places people can’t, and do things that people can’t.
Innovation isn’t new to CapitaLand – from smart building technology to real estate investment, to management strategies, the company has pioneered new approaches and real estate products. But for a company that deals in bricks and mortar, creating a virtual person was a step beyond the normal.
Bee Leng explained, “We figured that the best time to step out of our comfort zone is when we are already uncomfortable.”
Dentsu Creative (DC) Singapore team facilitated a workshop to identify the audience CapitaLand was trying to engage with and learn more about them. Who are the idols? What do they like? Why do they like them? The team designed Rae to be instantly effective and popular.
How to make a virtual person?
Stan shared an insight into the process, “We had many debates over the values that she will represent, the way she showed up, what her passion points are, and what's that one message she's going to bring to the world.”
Through the study of social media patterns, the team iteratively conceptualised and tested ideas and worked on improving Rae, at the speed of social. From different game engines to AI tools, DC Singapore figured out how to leverage AI and CGI to both create and manage Rae as a ‘living being’.
“We read every comment, every DM, and everyone in the team cares about Rae and the work that we are doing. We celebrate her every accomplishment, we reflect on her every criticism, and we channel it all back to Rae’s voice. And so through the team, although virtual, Rae has lifelike experiences, thoughts, and emotions, because she represents the collective feelings and ambitions of the team. This creates the authenticity that is keenly felt by her followers,” explained Bee Leng.
Retailers and brands soon noticed Rae’s growing influence and reached out for collaboration. The team carefully wove their offerings into her growth as an emerging creator, ensuring that the brands become relevant to her community. An example includes a collaboration with Kim Robinson, a celebrity hairstylist who gave Rae a makeover to help her stand out more as a content creator and fans fell in love with her new look.
Today, Rae is gaining recognition as one of the top rising virtual influencers in the region and appearing in the region's top fashion editorials as well as mainstream media such as Vogue and Tatler. Harper's Bazaar even named her as one of Singapore's most stylish women in 2022.
She continues to operate in virtual worlds through live streams, holograms, concerts, and NFTs, bringing real value to the brands that she works with. Beyond commercial engagements, Rae has unlocked technologies from AI, CGI, NFT, blockchain, AR, and VR and provides CapitaLand with a door to the virtual world. The journey of exploration and experimentation with Rae, has led to the setting up of the Digital Ventures team in CapitaLand, the Group’s corporate venture building arm.
We are living in a world of Avatars, but what can Virtual Influencers do for your business?
Stan pointed to how the use of a brand character has five times the impact on brand attribution and recall compared to the use of brand names and logos. Brands have seen six times increase in effectiveness when VIs are used across multiple campaigns, and there's a 41% increase in profits observed by brands who use special characters in campaigns as well. Looking to connect with Gen Z or Millenials? 40% of sales in this demographic can be related to promotions that come from Virtual Influencers.
But why would people connect with a virtual person? Stan explained, “We fall in love with characters from games and animation and movies all the time, and it's nothing new… Fans are also seeking companionship from their idols, that moment where they feel a little closer to a celebrity.”
Rae is a great example of virtual influencers becoming bigger than a great brand story. For DC Singapore, it's about these five points of connections; ethics, ideals, companionship, sensations, and finally, entertainment that ensure the VI resonates.
But VI design isn’t all about perfection, as Stan explained, “We got to design that emotional vulnerability into a character itself. We got to understand what acceptable blunders a community can accept. And we've got a design of her eyes to show a moment of weakness.”
Or as Rae herself put it, “What's real anyway? We all have our own ways of understanding the world. We all want to belong to something greater than ourselves, and we all dream of being something more. So to everyone here today, whatever else you choose to believe in, believe in yourself first. You never know when it will bring you onto the big stage like Cannes.”