Monday, December 22, 2008

Marketing to the Young and the Young at Heart: 3D Virtual Worlds

The consensus is still out on this one, but it sounds promising once marketers learn how to effectively utilize this medium. We market on social networks and we market in video games. Now combine the two with product placements embedded in 3D Virtual Worlds such as “Secondlife,” “Gaia,” and “Entropia.” In these networks, users communicate via avatars, or online virtual character, that they create for themselves. These virtual worlds transport the user into fantastical places that vary as much as the imagination will allow. Who wouldn’t want to teleport on over to the Louvre while sitting at home in your pajamas? The lines between fantasy and reality often become blurred – even with the exchange of real-life dollars. Enter marketing innovators.

Once again, marketing in the future appears to be all about combining entertainment and information. Bill Nissim of iBranz breaks down the real value of advertising in this new virtual world:

1. Consumers have the ability to experience things not currently possible in the real world
2. Product trials in virtual worlds provide a low-risk environment for testing features and benefits
3. You can hire avatars as product ambassadors and experts
4. You can demonstrate your product or service in use through live video or JPEGs

A 2006 study on marketing in virtual worlds did not display positive results, however. 72% of 200 respondents were disappointed with real world marketing in their virtual worlds, and only 7% claimed that the presence of companies could have a positive impact on them. A ray of hope: users stated that they would like to interact more with the brands represented. A Secondlife expert Wagner James Au calls it a failure of the imagination: “To play in Second Life, corporations must first come to a humbling realization: in the context of the fantastic, their brands as they exist in the real world are boring, banal, and unimaginative.” Basically, as with any other type of new media, marketers must adapt to the medium in order to be successful. It can be done. His three tips for successfully marketing in the virtual world are:

1. Leverage the user-generated aspect of the culture – in other worlds, brands that will be successful in marketing to the virtual world will have products that are useful to users in the creation of their world
2. Utilize activities that take place outside the virtual world itself such as message boards and forums, blogs, and conferencing systems
3. Serve the online community’s needs – offer assistance, advice, and information that is of value to them within their virtual world ie tips on how to use the interface

Some companies have been successful either in marketing within existing virtual worlds or through the creation of their own. Secondlife users have “grabbed” over a million copies of a Toyota Scion, and IMAX has introduced sales boosting promotions for movies such as Harry Potter. Coca Cola jumped on the bandwagon with their own Coke Studios where users create music mixes and share them throughout the community. Wells Fargo took the middle ground and created Stagecoach Island through Secondlife to educate users on financial literacy (while simultaneously sending brand message after brand message to a new generation of users).

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