Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Quiet Second Life

Second Life, the virtual world created that claims over two million "residents," is one of the more hyped things in the interactive marketing world today. Major retail brands are falling over themselves to create Second Life outposts, Starwood has created a hotel there, there's an ad agency with headquarters there... it seems that everybody's diving into Second Life.

Oh really? This MarketingProfs article is a welcome reality check:

I'm sitting in the chic lobby of Aloft, the groundbreaking Starwood hotel that has opened in the virtual world long before one opens in the real world. I'm alone at the bar, last stool on the left. I'd order a drink, but there doesn't seem to be a bartender on duty. I'd complain to the manager, but I can't find her, either. In fact, there isn't another soul in sight. No guests. No staff. It has been this way every time I've come for a visit.

Virtual Aloft is beautifully rendered. The attention to detail is amazing. But, still, it feels dead. This can't be what Starwood was going for when it started this marketing experiment.

Bored, I teleport to the American Apparel store. Empty, too. A sign next to the unmanned cash register reads FREE BEER. There's that drink I was looking for... but an offer of free beer from a youth-oriented retailer?

Actually, the sign and the cases of Tecate Mexican beer stashed behind the counter are the work of a rogue resident, an act of silent protest against Big Marketing's invasion of the virtual world. The beer has been there for months, along with a tray of steaming tacos and a piƱata that hangs from the store's ceiling.

Toyota's Scion show room? Empty.

Reebok? Empty.

This matches my experiences with Second Life. People are spending a lot of time there, but not with marketers (whom they increasingly resent).

Should you forget about Second Life? Of course not. But you need to know what it is and what it is not, and sorry, marketers: it's not two million people wandering around thinking, "If only an ad agency would show me something, this would be perfect!"

Users seem to be attracted by the opportunity to build things themselves and interact with other users. They're not waiting around for you; really, they don't care about you at all and would prefer you not bother them.

Second Life is a social medium. The MarketingProfs piece offers the best possible advice for marketers: before you do anything, go into Second Life and play. Explore it. Get a feel for how it works. See what's going on.

If instead you follow the typical marketer's first, worst instinct and look upon Second Life as its "residents" as a giant target audience for you to shake money out of, be prepared to waste your effort and annoy the people there.

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