Marks & Spencer has introduced an AR-powered "virtual influencer" character as part of its "M&S Insiders" initiative that uses staff as influencers, a move designed to help the brand appeal more to younger, tech-savvy consumers.
Appearing on M&S's Instagram account, Mira – which stands for "Marks & Spencer, influencer, reality, augmented" – has been developed in conjunction with creative technology agency Happy Finish using a combination of photography and CGI. The virtual character will create "real-world" content.
The virtual persona is one of five new additions to M&S Insiders, which brings the total to 13. Insiders come from a variety of roles at the company, including store assistants, stylists, buyers and designers. They produce social content, sharing style tips and product recommendations with their social followers. M&S said that they generate an average 30% higher engagement rate than external influencers.
Accordingly, Mira will promote M&S's latest "collections, trends and style tips, as one in four people in the UK say they are influenced by social media to buy clothes". By virtue of being a digital, AR character, M&S will be able to test and learn, using her to respond to trending conversations "at pace and be agile with how and when content is captured", while hopefully appealing to "a younger audience and build a community with a demographic that are interested in this new form of technology".
The other new joiner Insiders include a menswear stylist called Dan, two focused on childrenswear, called Sharon and Jodie, and Bethany, who focuses on beauty.
Anna Braithwaite, M&S's director of marketing for clothing and home, said: "We are excited to welcome Mira – UK retail's first virtual influencer – to our M&S Insider family. Her introduction is just the latest example of how M&S has become bolder in experimenting with emerging technology and trends to inspire our customers – whether that's our Live Shopping events or our expert online consultation services, such as digital bra fit.
"A virtual influencer means we can be more fleet of foot in live trends/conversations and opens possibilities in both the physical and virtual world in the future. I can't wait to hear customer feedback and see where we take Mira next."
Jeremy Yates, Happy Finish's director of strategic partnerships, added: "A big part of our work for M&S focuses on helping the brand unlock new ways to bring its product ranges to life and enrich customer experience. Creating Mira to complement the existing M&S Insiders team is set to do both."