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An Emerging Theory of Avatar Marketing

An Emerging Theory of Avatar Marketing

Fred Miao, Haizhong Wang, Tao Xie and Robert Palmatier

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Insight: Explores avatar design strategies for effective deployment in marketing applications.

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Classroom Code(s): Advertising and Promotion; Brand Management; Consumer Behavior

Digital Marketing; Innovation/New Product Development; Marketing Communications; Marketing Strategy; Principles of Marketing, Core Marketing, Intro to Marketing Management; Retail Marketing; Salesforce Management; Services Marketing; Social Media Marketing; Technology Marketing


Full Citation: ​
Complete citation: Miao, Fred, Irina Kozlenkova, Haizhong Wang, Tao Xie, Robert Palmatier (2021), “An Emerging Theory of Avatar Marketing,” Journal of Marketing.

Article Abstract
Abstract: Avatars are becoming increasingly popular in contemporary marketing strategies, but their effectiveness for achieving performance outcomes (e.g., purchase likelihood) varies widely in practice. Related academic literature is fragmented, lacking both definitional consistency and conceptual clarity. This article makes three main contributions to avatar theory and managerial practice. First, to address ambiguity with respect to its definition, this study identifies and critically evaluates key conceptual elements of the term avatar, offers a definition derived from this analysis, and provides a typology of avatars’ design elements. Second, the proposed 2  2 avatar taxonomy suggests that the alignment of an avatar’s form realism and behavioral realism, across different contingencies, provides a parsimonious explanation for avatar effectiveness. Third, the authors develop an emerging theory of avatar marketing, by triangulating insights from fundamental elements of avatars, a synthesis of extant research, and business practices. This framework integrates key theoretical insights, research propositions, and important managerial implications for this expanding area of marketing strategy. Lastly, the authors outline a research program to both test the propositions and insights as well as advance future research.

Special thanks to Demi Oba and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Fred Miao is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Texas at Arlington, USA.  

Haizhong Wang is Professor of Marketing, Sun Yat-sen University, China.  

Tao Xie is a Ph.D. Candidate, Sun Yat-sen University, China.