Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Environmental Science (MS)

Degree Level



General Human Environmental Sciences


Eunjoo Cho

Committee Member

Kathleen R. Smith

Second Committee Member

Lance Cheramie


Social Exchange Theory, Source Credibility Model, branding, authenticity, impact


With the emergence and increasing prevalence of social media, the effectiveness of social media influencers (SMIs) is apparent in today’s fast-paced life. Virtual social media influencers (VSMIs), computer-generated influencers with a real human appearance, have gained popularity. The purpose of this study is to examine important VSMI’s characteristics that affect brand image and trust which lead to purchase intention (fast fashion vs. luxury fashion brand). Social exchange theory and source credibility model were adopted to develop a theoretical framework for the present study. Two Instagram ads were developed that included the post’s image and corresponding caption: VSMI endorsing H&M and Gucci. Each participant was randomly presented with one of the two Instagram ads. A total of 163 participants completed the survey (H&M: 93, Gucci: 73). The majority of the sample were female Caucasian American students (68.7%) between the ages of 18 and 40 years old. The results showed VSMIs’ characteristics significantly affect brand image and trust leading young adult consumers’ purchase intentions both fast fashion and luxury fashion brands. For both brands, authenticity significantly influenced brand image and trust and homophily influenced brand trust. For the fast fashion brand, attractiveness influenced brand image and trust, whereas wishful identification influenced brand image only for the luxury fashion brand. Both brand image and trust influenced purchase intention. Findings suggested that both fast fashion and luxury fashion brands would benefit from the VSMIs that present genuine messages Instagram followers resonate with. Fast fashion brands should focus on delivering the message in an appealing manner, while luxury fashion brands collaborating with VSMIs should focus on creating an aspirational message that followers can relate with. By strategically developing social media content according to the type of fashion brand, VSMIs can positively influence brand image and trust motivating followers’ intention to purchase fashion brands.