Media Morph: Avatar

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What it is: An animated or photographic image, human or non-human, that Web surfers use to identify themselves with online, usually in chat rooms, but also sometimes included in viral e-mails.

Who's using it: The Monk-e-mail application at the CareerBuilder.com site, which was part of the Super Bowl campaign by agency Cramer-Krasselt. Visitors to the site build their own monkey avatar, choosing clothing, headgear, background and accessories, and then e-mail it with a recorded message to a friend. The idea was to extend the campaign beyond Super Bowl Sunday. Wendy's recently sponsored ESPN.com's Voice of the Fan Web page by offering users the opportunity to dress their avatar in a Wendy's T-shirt, or have the avatar hold a burger.

Why you should care: It puts the advertiser "at the leading edge of Internet-publishing technology," said John Papanek, senior VP-editorial director, ESPN new media, who oversees a build-your-own avatar feature, sponsored by Wendy's, on ESPN.com. Internet telephone company Vonage used avatars in banner ads to catch consumers' attention on crowded Web pages and to hit home the innovative nature of the product. In this age of consumer-generated media, avatars are also a handy tool for keeping consumers engaged with a brand.

Results: Like many novelties, avatars do get attention. Across the 10 campaigns that Oddcast CEO Adi Sideman has worked with to provide avatar technology, the average open rates of marketing e-mails that contain avatars improve 70%.

Downside: Avatars are rather silly. They might not work to sell home-security systems or credit cards. "When the contextual relevance is there, then you have this viral effect and big open rate," Mr. Sideman said.
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