Before virtual worlds existed, the internet never offered such a genuine social experience and an untapped opportunity for marketers.
The next-generation social community seems to have broken into the interactive scene almost overnight. Virtual worlds like Kaneva, There and Second Life have carved a distinct mark in the minds of consumers and should therefore be carving their mark into the minds of advertisers and marketers.
At least that's according to Adam Broitman, director of emerging and creative strategy for Morpheus Media. In his presentation, "The Experience Web," at the iMedia Entertainment Marketing Summit in Beverly Hills, Calif., Broitman said the internet has never offered such a genuine social experience before such virtual worlds existed, and although relatively low adoption rates may scare many marketers away, the unprecedented user engagement these worlds offer poses a largely untapped opportunity for marketers.
Won't somebody please think about the children!
The virtual movement will grow larger, according to Broitman. In fact, it will grow large enough to drive a whole new version of the web, from 2.0 to "web 3.d:" a web experience based entirely around virtual interaction. How can this be? Just take a look at Club Penguin, a virtual world for kids.
But with new technology comes a learning curve, at which kids are typically the front line. If a child has grown up playing around with Club Penguin, then Broitman suggests that child will grow acclimated to the virtual environment, which will mean increased users for virtual worlds targeted toward teens and eventually adults. As those children age, their life will center more around virtual worlds, personally and perhaps professionally, just as email and blogs have been integrated into the lives of today's younger generation. So marketers that position themselves well in the virtual world are likely to find themselves well positioned for the future.
Why now? Why us?
Broitman referenced a new way to consider metrics for virtual worlds. He suggested "think expressions, not impressions." Although Second Life is "riddled with ghost towns," providing plenty of reason to steer clear, users that do engage are very committed, and in return, communities that engage the user are well populated.
Some users even let their virtual communities bleed onto their MySpace page. The page can then act as a vehicle to drive more traffic back to virtual communities, or simply as an expression of commitment to a brand.
This works particularly well for entertainment brands given the shelf life of many shows and movies. To illustrate this and offer up some best practices, Broitman referenced Showtime's Second Life community in support of the show "The L Word."
By leveraging Second Life's capabilities, Showtime was able to create an engaging campaign that kept users coming back and tuning in, all by adhering to a few best practices:
- Create a consistent experience. Showtime re-created aspects of the show on Second Life to allow users to participate in the events of the show, virtually.
- Run tutorials. With engaging content, Showtime shows us that users are willing to acclimate themselves to the new environment if it doesn't require too much effort. Showtime walked users through a navigation tutorial, which paid off by changing committed viewers into fresh users.
- "Think expressions not impressions." Not everybody is going to watch "The L Word," let alone be engaged enough by the show to virtually live it. However, by enticing users who may be on the fence about their engagement, Showtime was able to reel in consumers who would be more receptive to advertisers, thus making each ad dollar count more, and of course making the show more popular and more valuable. As Broitman put it, the best metric is more "qualitative than quantitative."
Lessons to "Live Free and Die Hard" by
Like "The L Word," users can participate in the actual scenery of "Live Free and Die Hard" due to the opportunities offered by virtual worlds. In the "Die Hard" campaign, however, Broitman shows us how Fox takes full advantage of the social aspect of Second Life.
To boost its virtual presence, for example, the studio brought Bruce Willis in for a virtual press conference. This was effective both in terms of cost for the studio, since Willis was able to log in from wherever he was at the time, and for fans and the press, which could attend the conference at a low cost to them. Users could watch the conference and meet friends in the virtual space, creating a community for more engagement.
Strategies for success
Clearly these campaigns met with success by adhering to a few basic principles, but Broitman also suggested some other practices.
Although no direct pricing model exists for virtual world advertising, and for the most part this particular emerging media still resembles the Wild West, success is within reach. Like always, constantly engage the user; an "active user is a valuable user," Broitman said. Also, make your virtual world marketing strategy co-exist with your 2D ad strategies. In fact, link the two. Virtual worlds are a valuable tool. But as Broitman pointed out, they are most valuable as part of an overarching strategy to engage an entire community.
Adam Shahbaz is assistant editor at iMedia Communications, Inc. Read full bio.