Get access

Avatars as information: Perception of consumers based on their avatars in virtual worlds


  • This research was funded by the RBC Research Chair at HEC Montréal, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University and the Fond de la recherche sur la société et la culture (FQRSC). The authors are thankful to Manon Arcand, Annie Boisvert, Jacques Nantel, Sylvain Sénécal and Jean-François Ouellet for their comments on previous drafts of this manuscript. The data was collected as part of the M.Sc. thesis of the first author at HEC Montréal.


The presence of consumers and companies in the virtual worlds has increased in recent years. It is predicted that 80% of active Internet consumers and Fortune 500 companies will have an avatar or presence in a virtual community, including social networks, by the end of 2011 (eMarketer, 2007). The increase in the number of consumers with avatars emphasizes the need for a better understanding of who these consumers behind the avatars really are in order to convert these individuals to online and real-world customers. The objective of this paper is to investigate how avatars reflect the personality of their creators (targets) in virtual worlds. Using the Brunswik Lens Model as the theoretical framework, an investigation of real consumers in the virtual world Second Life reveals that perceivers who view targets' avatar use particular thin-slices of observations such as avatar cues (e.g., attractiveness, gender, hairstyle) to form accurate personality impressions about targets. The findings support the premise that real-life companies that intend to expand to virtual worlds can use member avatars as a proxy for member personality and lifestyles. As a future research direction, avatars and other consumer-generated media could be used as the basis for targeting and segmentation of online consumers. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.