Monday, July 16, 2007

LA Times On "Second Life and Marketing..." It is Overrated

Ed Note -- The following is cross posted at a Blog I am beginning about Web 2.0 and marketing that is titled Two Way Street Research and Consultation. I will be doing more of these kinds of cross posts in the future as I develop that site and maintain this one...

I am kind of underwhelmed by Second Life as a gaming reality, but that's a personal preference. I tried it, didn't like it, moved on. Like many I have a number of friends who meet up virtually both here and in World of Warcraft and they tend to love it. Me, well, it's not my cup of tea. My biggest problem was time. But clearly many others love it and, as one of my friends says about World of Warcraft is that there is always something to do and, unlike real life, it is a fairer meritocracy, i.e. you work harder and better you actually get promoted!.

One of the things about these spaces is that because so many people are spending their time engaged many marketers have decided to colonize the space and sell whatever they have to sell. I am certain you can do it effectively, but many marketers are having "second thoughts about Second Life" according to the Los Angeles Times
[It] turns out that plugging products is as problematic in the virtual world as it is anywhere else.

At — where the cost is $6 a month for premium citizenship — shopping, at least for real-world products, isn't a main activity. Four years after Second Life debuted, some marketers are second-guessing the money and time they've put into it.

"There's not a compelling reason to stay," said Brian McGuinness, vice president of Aloft, a brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. that is closing its Second Life shop and donating its virtual land to the nonprofit social-networking group TakingITGlobal.

Linden Lab, the San Francisco firm that created Second Life, sells companies and people pieces of the landscape where they can build stores, conference halls and gardens. Individuals create avatars, or virtual representations of themselves, that travel around this online society, exploring and schmoozing with other avatars. Land developed by users, rather than real-world companies, is among the most popular places in Second Life.

But the sites of many of the companies remaining in Second Life are empty. During a recent in-world visit, Best Buy Co.'s Geek Squad Island was devoid of visitors and the virtual staff that was supposed to be online.

The schedule of events on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s site was blank, and the green landscape of Dell Island was deserted. Signs posted on the window of the empty American Apparel store said it had closed up shop.

McGuinness said Starwood's venture into Second Life did accomplish something. Feedback from denizens gave Aloft ideas for its physical hotels.

The suggestions included putting radios in showers and painting the lobbies in earth tones rather than primary colors. But now that the design initiative is over, he said, it's difficult to attract people to the virtual hotel to help build the real-world brand.

Ok, let's quickly evaluate this... what did the majority of these companies do in Second Life? Well, they simply put their "real world" services and stores in this world where you can fly and build things you could not build today. Mistake number one: Not matching the creative potential of your available space and the desires of the audience. Notice how the hotel chain benefited? Well, they got creative suggestions. In the real world we are all too often limited by our creative potentials. In virtual and fantasy worlds, we want to get beyond restrictions of class, gender and physical abilities. In other words, do something different and more creative in your virtual worlds when you are marketing, please.

Let's look further at the article...
For some advertisers, the problem is that Second Life is a fantasyland, and the representations of the people who play in it don't have human needs. Food and drink aren't necessary, teleporting is the easiest way to get around and clothing is optional. In fact, the human form itself is optional.

Avatars can play games, build beach huts, dress up like furry animals, flirt with strangers — sometimes all at once.

Their interests seem to tend toward the risque. Ian Schafer, chief executive of online marketing firm Deep Focus, which advises clients about entering virtual worlds, said he recently toured Second Life. He started at the Aloft hotel and found it empty. He moved on to casinos, brothels and strip clubs, and they were packed. Schafer said he found in his research that "one of the most frequently purchased items in Second Life is genitalia."

Another problem for some is that Second Life doesn't have enough active residents.

On its website, Second Life says the number of total residents is more than 8 million. But that counts people who signed in once and never returned, as well as multiple avatars for individual residents. Even at peak times, only about 30,000 to 40,000 users are logged on, said Brian Haven, an analyst with Forrester Research.

"You're talking about a much smaller audience than advertisers are used to reaching," Haven said.

Some in the audience don't want to be reached. After marketers began entering Second Life, an avatar named Urizenus Sklar — in the real world, University of Toronto philosophy professor Peter Ludlow — wrote in the public-relations blog Strumpette that the community was "being invaded by an army of old world meat-space corporations."

He and other residents accused companies of lacking creativity by setting up traditional-looking stores that didn't fit in. His column was reproduced in the Second Life Herald.

Nissan Motor Co., a subject of such protests, has since transformed its presence in Second Life from a car vending machine to an "automotive amusement park," where avatars can test gravity-defying vehicles and ride hamster balls. Sun Micro has made its participation more interactive and fanciful, Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos said.

Ludlow isn't impressed. He said most firms were more interested in the publicity they received from their ties with Second Life than in the digital world itself. "It was a way to brand themselves as being leading-edge," he said.

Angry avatars have taken virtual action. Reebok weathered a nuclear bomb attack and customers were shot outside the American Apparel store. Avatars are creating fantasy knockoffs of brand-name products too.
Ok, so they don't have enough residents and the residents that are their can often resent the intrusion of the marketing world that they are probably hoping avoid altogether. Again, please, if you are going to market, be creative, do something different and understand your medium and who are audience is, which is kind of like marketing in the real world.

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1 comment:

chutry said...

Hi, Tim. There's something on your other blog that is opening very slowly, which made it difficult to open the page. Just thought I'd let you know. The new project itself looks really interesting, and I look forward to following it.

The discussion of Second Life is interesting. I've never felt compelled to try it but have been planning to check out the Sundance Second Life space for my book.