How old should the avatar on my website be?

[This is a guest post by Arabella Ignatieff, a recent Ph.D graduate from HEC Montreal, who's now specializing in marketing for older adults.]

The question that came to my mind and became the subject of my thesis is what age should I give the avatar on my commercial website depending on my target market’s age to optimize my web-users’ response toward the website and the brand. 

The main reason to study avatars was that they are becoming increasingly used on commercial websites. Avatars or the characters on a website have been used by companies like Ikea, Xerox, Yoplay on their websites in  order to improve their web-users’ experience, the perceived socialness of their website, their customer’s positive perception of their website and brand to develop their sales. Those impacts of avatars on consumer responses have been scientifically demonstrated by Holzwarth, Janiszewski and Neumann (2006) and Wang et al. (2007).  

[caption id="attachment_4459" align="alignleft" width="430"]Example of an avatar used on a cell phone website Example of an avatar used on a cell phone website[/caption]

Researchers have also showed that people tend to appreciate more avatars of their own ethnic background and sex (Nass, Isbister and Lee, 2000; Nowak and Rauh, 2006). Therefore, I decided to work on age as it had never been done. I was going to compare the behavior of three different age groups the adolescents, the adults and the 65 and over. While doing my research, I came across a concept that I did find interesting the ‘subjective age’ as it is considered as a better predictor of consumer behavior especially when one is dealing with aging consumers (Barack, 2009). The main idea behind the subjective age is that people when they reach their late twenties start to feel younger than their chronological age. This difference increases with age and reaches a maximum of 15 years (Moschis, 1992).

The subjective age which is the age that one feels was developed in the 50’s because researchers wanted to improve their understanding of the aging customers. 

The results of my research do match the results previous studies  on the subject. I did find that the maximum gap between the chronological age and the subjective age is between 13 and 15 years. 

Therefore, if you add to the subjective age the fact that according to the Attraction for Similarity Theory (Byrne, 1971) people tend to be attracted to people that are similar to them, the subjective age is crucial to determine the optimal age of an avatar on a commercial website.  

[caption id="attachment_4460" align="alignleft" width="482"]Observed difference in humans between their subjective and chronological age. Source: Arabella Ignatieff Observed difference in humans between their subjective and chronological age. Source: Arabella Ignatieff[/caption]

As the difference with the subjective age and the chronological increases with age it is very important while dealing with the 50+ to take this subjective age into account. The cosmetic industry with L’Oreal has been one of the first industries to integrate this concept in their advertising.  

The results of my research show that an avatar that is perceived as matching participant’s subjective age will have a more positive impact on the attitude toward the website and the brand attitude than an avatar that is not perceived as matching the participant’s subjective age. However, if you separate the participants of the mismatching group into two groups; the younger mismatching and the older mismatching; there is no significant difference between the matching group and the younger mismatching group. In fact, both groups have a more positive impact on the attitude toward the website and the brand compared to the older mismatching group. 

As a conclusion I would strongly recommend web designers or companies that are creating a website for the 50+ to include an avatar of the same age as their target population’s subjective age.

[caption id="attachment_4461" align="alignleft" width="300"]Examples of avatars of different ages Examples of avatars of different ages[/caption]











  • Barak, B. (2009). "Age identity: A cross-cultural global approach." International Journal of Behavioral Development 33(1): 2-11.

  • Byrne, D. (1971). The attraction paradigme. New York, NY, Academic press.

  • Holzwarth, M., C. Janiszewski, et al. (2006). "The Influence of Avatars on Online Consumer Shopping Behavior." Journal of Marketing 70: 19-36.

  • Jones, S. (2009). "Generation online 2009." from http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2009/PIP_Generations_2009.pdf.

  • Moschis, G. (1992). Marketing to older consumers: a handbook of information for strategy development. Wesport, CT, Quorum books.

  • Nass, C., K. Isbister, et al. (2000). Truth is beauty: researching embodied conversational agents. Embodied conversational agents. J. Cassell, J. Sullivan, S. Prevost and E. Churchill. Cambridge, Ma., The MIT press: 374-402.

  • Nowak, K. and C. Rauh (2006). "The influence of the avatar on online perceptions of anthropomorphism, androginy, credibilty, homophily and attraction." Journal of computer mediated communication 11: 153-178.

  • Wang, C., J. Baker, et al. (2007). "Can a retail website be social?" Journal of Marketing 71: 143-15


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