another busy day in the office, virtually?

18Apr07

Second Life is currently the leading 3D virtual world environment and several agencies are investigating how it may be relevant for brand interaction, advertising and experience online. It’s also a new space for media planners to reach an international mix of consumers in.

Second Life is also able to help with the networking, briefing and project management of teams

Virtual Design Centre

It allows team members to log in from anywhere in the world with a Broadband internet connection, view photos, videos, 3D models, presentations or meet together in virtual conference rooms. As you may expect, the technology is still being refined but it does work.

Each consumer or team member creates an avatar for Second Life, a visual representation of yourself online. You then log on to a set virtual location, these are seen as islands or areas of the virtual world and companies and individuals create buildings or landscape virtual gardens for their locations.

Mornington Crescent

Basic interaction is possible by individuals typing to each other, similar to MSN Messenger. But groups in a local may listen to a live voice feed, live music, watch a movie file (business presentation or entertainment) etc.

One of the issues for the agencies who have bravely leapt into creating a permanent presence in such environments is to clarify their objectives for being there. Some use SL to showcase the technology to staff and clients. Few are able to say what they make happen in the virtual world. There is also the question of what the 1m+ active users of SL make of your branded virtual environment if they visit when you aren’t logged online to talk to them, especially if your space isn’t interactive.

Adidas Shop

Some brands sell virtual products to the consumers in Second Life. This can be arranged through automated vending systems that sell without the need for your interaction. Adidas are a leading example of this approach. You may visit a virtual store and pay a nominal amount to purchase your avatar a pair of virtual Adidas sneakers. This may seem strange to some, but hundreds of thousands of consumers shop virtually every week. This audience are increasingly international, with only 40% based in the USA.

The amount of money exchanging hands is also a surprise, especially given the micro-purchase nature of most transactions in this virtual world. More than US$1m exchanges into SL Linden $ each week. Tax avoidance and money laundering monitors have raised some difficult questions for Linden Labs. But the virtual environment is set up with a ‘for the people, by the people’ culture that encourages diversity and experimentation rather than laws and restrictions. Linden Labs ask users to apply laws on areas such as online gambling based on their local country of origin. Such an approach is receiving a tepid response.

Adidas 2

A challenge for agencies and brand owners who don’t wish to sell something simple to the virtual audience is how to use the space they create to engage interest and interaction. Particularly if they don’t employ real people to be online and logged into SL 24/7.

Last year BBC Radio One created a huge marquee on their own Second Life island and hosted concerts as part of a festival. This was great while Snow Patrol or one of the other acts were playing for the 2 days. But what function does the virtual space serve afterwards? It was literally a huge empty tent the last time I dropped by. And no, I haven’t gone back to check and Radio One didn’t data-capture my visit or register my interest so that they may let me know about future events.

Agencies are also dabbling with the environment. Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Leo Burnett and Mediacom all have their own islands. But none seem to showcase what they do well in virtual space, or provide more than a few static images from their work with traditional branded environments or media.

BBH Zig Zag

The good news is that as SL is so new for most users, they are very undemanding of brands at present. A well designed and branded presence, a virtual goody bag and a link to a flash web-site is enough to start with and won’t cost you much to set up.

But don’t expect big budget clients or hundreds of thousands of consumers to beat a path to your virtual door unless you really have something to say or desirable to sell. Just like Real Life, they won’t come back after their first visit unless you engage them and update your offering regularly. Dull, if permanent, presence alone really doesn’t help a brand.

If you’d like a virtual tour of SL, drop me an email after you’ve installed the software (IT admin permissions maybe required if you do this at work) and you’ve completed the basic automated induction that creates your avatar and informs you how to move around the environment.

kevin.sugrue@toreador.co.uk

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