Virtual Social Identity and Consumer Behavior

27th Annual Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference

Virtual Social Identity and Consumer Behavior

The 27th annual Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference will be held May 1-2, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The conference is sponsored by the Society for Consumer Psychology (SCP)

The theme of the conference is Virtual Social Identity and Consumer Behavior. We encourage participation from a broad range of academic researchers and practitioners in such fields as marketing and consumer psychology, computer science, sociology, economics, and communications.
The creation and expression of identity (or of multiple identities) in immersive environments is rapidly transforming consumer behavior – even though at this point in time many mainstream consumers have not even heard of this phenomenon! The largest social networking, Second Life, currently has over 6 million registered users worldwide, while the gaming-oriented site World of Warcraft has close to 9 million users.

Consumers enter CME’s in digital form, as avatars. A user can design his or her avatar by choosing facial features, body types, clothing styles – and even nonhuman forms. These digital representations are socializing with one another in real time, taking virtual university courses, participating in corporate training programs, sharing reactions to new products, and of course shopping.

To date more than 40 RL (real life) companies including GM, Dell, Sony, IBM and Wells Fargo are staking their claim to online real estate in computer-mediated environments (CME’s) such as Second Life, and Entropia Universe. In April 2007 alone, residents of the online “world” Second Life spent approximately $10 million (in real money) on virtual land, products and services. Corporate America’s transition to the virtual world is an attempt to reach and entice the growing flood of consumers occupying these virtual worlds.

Clearly this expanding space will be pivotal in fueling new consumer trends over the next decade. In addition, the parallel growth in spending on advergaming continues to transfigure the online C2C world. Forecasts suggest that sales of branded messages embedded in videogames will reach $733 million by 2010. Eventually, these CME forums may rival traditional, marketer-sponsored E-commerce sites in terms of their influence on consumer decision-making and product adoption.

Despite this huge potential, we know very little about the best way to talk to consumers in these online environments. How will well-established research findings from the offline world transfer to CMEs? For example, can we be sure that our received wisdom regarding the impact of source credibility upon persuasion will readily apply to a situation where a “source” espousing adoption of a new product takes the form of an animated supermodel with exaggerated “attributes” or a bright green demon with fearsome horns?

These new online platforms generate many fascinating research questions for the advertising and consumer psychology community. Here are some:

Avatars, the Self, and Attitude Change

What does the consumer’s choice of his or her own avatar tell us about self-concept and role identity – especially since visitors often create multiple avatars to “experiment” with different identities?

How important is it for visitors to be able to customize the avatars they encounter in advertising so that they control the image that speaks to them about its products?

How effective are avatars as sources of marketing communications?
What physical dimensions influence the consumer decision-making process when shoppers encounter avatars that represent RL organizations? Should a company’s “spokes-avatar” be modeled after a real person (perhaps the viewer herself)? A celebrity? A fantasy figure?

How will the explosion in consumer-generated marketing communications now being posted in CMEs (including YouTube, Second Life and elsewhere) influence the process of attitude change and strategic communications decisions?

How does the phenomenon of “presence” (the term communications researchers use to refer to the level of immersion in a virtual social environment) relate to flow states and high involvement situations documented in consumer research?

Virtual Influence and Decision Making

What are the implications for information diffusion as consumers increasingly turn to CMEs for information about new products or to read other consumers’ reviews of these products?

Can consumer researchers construct and populate virtual laboratories that will allow them to simulate RL decision-making contexts and better understand how heuristics, contextual cues, information displays and other variables will impact consumer behavior both offline and online?

Can avatars’ conversations with one another, either in pairs or in groups, be a valuable starting point for buzz-building and word-of-mouth marketing campaigns?

How will the growth in CME participation affect social interaction patterns such as dating?

To what extent do consumers in CMEs participate in risk-taking behavior, and what implications does this have for RL?

What are the implications for adolescent socialization, or for the ability of children to distinguish reality- based cues from fantasy?

What are the ethical implications of the increasingly common practice of misrepresentation whereby companies pay individuals to promote their products on websites while masquerading as “ordinary” surfers?

Virtual Culture and Economies

What is the potential of online prediction markets (like The Hollywood Stock Exchange) to improve researchers’ and practitioners’ ability to forecast consumer trends?

How will norms regarding social etiquette, cheating, and gift-giving transfer to CMEs?

What are the implications for cross-cultural consumer behavior as CME residents increasingly are able to interact with fellow avatars (and companies) from around the world?

How will the integration of avatars on other internet platforms influence consumer behavior on e- commerce websites?


Submissions may be in one of two categories: 1) complete papers or 2) abstracts. Preference for acceptance will be given to papers that provide extensive integration of existing work and/or provide details of a relevant program of research that takes a psychological perspective. Authors of the best papers will be invited to prepare a manuscript for a book to be published by the Society for Consumer Psychology. Complete papers that will be published in the book must be submitted in camera-ready format within 30 days of presentation at the conference. Publication of full papers based upon submitted abstracts is contingent upon satisfactory review of the full paper.

Submissions must be received by December 15, 2007. Papers should be sent to Natalie Wood ( electronically as an attached Word file. All papers will be blind-reviewed, so please submit your manuscript with authors’ names and contact information on a separate cover page. Please limit the manuscript to 30 pages double-spaced (excluding Exhibits) with 1” margins.

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Publié par Paule Mackrous

Après un parcours universitaire en histoire de l’art (BAC, Maitrise) et en sémiologie (Phd), j’ai fait un petit virage en horticulture (DEP, ASP) et en foresterie urbaine (arboricultrice certifiée ISA et études de deuxième cycle en agroforesterie), un domaine dans lequel j’œuvre avec beaucoup d’enthousiasme aujourd’hui! Je poursuis mon travail d’historienne de l’art et de sémioticienne par l’écriture et la recherche, surtout durant la saison hivernale, lorsque la lumière s’amenuise, que le sol gèle et que les plantes dorment. Sur mon blogue, je publie des textes de réflexion sur l’art, la nature et la foresterie selon les lectures du moment, les lieux visités, les œuvres rencontrées.

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