Advertising has always targeted a powerful consumer alter ego: that hip, attractive, incredibly popular person just waiting to emerge from an all-too-normal self. Now, in cyberspace, consumers are taking the initiative and adopting alter egos that are anything but under wraps. These online personae, called avatars, range from simple but personalized cartoonlike characters used as pictorial signatures in instant messaging to fully developed characters in virtual worlds. And they represent a huge population of "shadow" customers who can be analyzed, segmented, and targeted.
- From the June 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review.