As social media platforms like YouTube and Twitch have grown in popularity, so too have brand and sponsorship deals between publishers and creators. While it’s the likes of Mr. Beast and PewDiePie being asked to promote products and services in the west, however, the situation in Japan is quite a bit different. Instead of creators made out of flesh and blood, an increasing number of companies are now turning to virtual YouTubers in order to promote their products and services to eastern audiences; including Microsoft.
For those wondering, a virtual YouTuber is exactly what it sounds like: a YouTuber who only exists as a string of ones and zeroes. In a way, they aren’t all that different from creators who adopt new personas in order to appeal to a wider audience, although there is one big difference. These virtual YouTubers are typically created by computer software, meaning that they always look pristine and can be tweaked and changed with the flick of a wrist and the click of a button. It’s perhaps for this reason that Microsoft decided to partner with two of them to promote its Game Pass in Japan.
Between them, Shishiro Botan and Himemori Luna have well over one million subscribers, and each of their daily videos typically attracts hundreds of thousands of viewers. Microsoft’s deal seems to have been for one hour long stream with each of them, both of which have now been viewed more than 100 thousand times. In the streams, the YouTubers play through several of the games available on Game Pass while also highlighting some of the other perks and benefits that are attached to the service. While the move may seem like a strange one to some though, it’s arguably an example of a modern solution to a decades-old problem.
Microsoft has been trying and failing to gain a sturdy foothold in the Japanese market since the days of the original Xbox. With traditional marketing having been unsuccessful in the past, it’s perhaps not too surprising to now see the company taking a different approach to how it operates in the east. Given the reports that Sony diverted PS5 stock away from Japan in order to focus on meeting demand in the west, decision makers at Microsoft may now feel that they’re currently well placed to capitalize on the situation.
While this may be one of Microsoft’s first experiences with virtual YouTubers though, it’s a tactic that its rivals have been utilizing for quite a while now. Last year, Sony sent out PS5s to a selection of influencers one month before the console’s official release; several of whom were virtual YouTubers. Whether or not they were paid for this remains unclear, however, as there’s certainly an argument to be made that all of the parties involved benefited from the early access.