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  Marketing Mistakes in ‘Second Life’  
 
 
Posted 2006-07-10 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
AdAge.com is running an article today (registration required to read) about growing interest in virtual worlds among marketers. The article provides a number of interesting viewpoints, including Organic's newly-appointed executive director of emerging platforms Chad Stoller, who blathers: "There's an opportunity here for marketers to communicate the real meaning of their brands... Think if Snickers puts its candy bars in Second Life, and they gave players real energy." I've posited before that some marketers are getting high on their own fumes with regards to in-game and in-world advertising, and Stoller's soundbite is a great example.

I'd like to know how a virtual candy bar can give a player real energy, for one. At best, an avatar (a representation of a player) consuming a virtual candy bar could have its attributes boosted. But to be a truly realistic simulation, that same avatar would have its standard attributes lessened an hour or so later when the virtual sugar and carb high wears off. Or if the avatar didn't brush its teeth, it might get virtual tooth decay from eating too many Snickers bars. Coding only the positive effects of a product into a virtual world is, in my opinion, false advertising.

Stoller's statement shows that he doesn't understand the way the virtual world of Second Life works. Let's say Mars (maker of Snickers) dropped in their avatar-energy-boosting candy bars into Second Life. There is no mechanism available to Mars to make Snickers the best in its virtual class. As a synthetic environment, there are hard limitations on changing the world or its avatars. This means that any one of the numerous residents capable of creating their own programmed objects could make a candy bar on par with a Snickers bar. In fact, every candy bar in Second Life could theoretically be identical to a Snickers bar in affecting the virtual world--all that distinguishes Snickers from Snookies, Snorkers, or Smickles is the brand's outward appearance and reputation.
 
     
 
   
 
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  18 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by John Mims
July 10, 2006 @ 3:58 pm
     
 
It's so very frightening that so many of my ad agency colleagues just don't get it. There are so many that fail to see the opportunities while those that see opportunity forget that there is a danger in marketing in a media that they themselves do not understand.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
July 10, 2006 @ 4:09 pm
     
 
Thanks for the comments, John. What's scares me more than the people who don't get it are the people who don't know they don't get it. This particular variety of ignorance is so easily cured: If you want to do business in virtual worlds, you've got to become a virtual world resident (at least long enough get a functional appreciation of its environment, opportunities, and established culture).
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
July 10, 2006 @ 4:13 pm
     
 
I think it's hilarious that after all the dumping people have done on the Sims Online, when it comes to some marketing guru blathering, what does he do with Second Life? He mixes it up with Sims Online, where your avatar *could* eat a Snickers bar, like he ate a McDonald's hamburger, and *could* get energy points. Of course, he got hygiene and bladder points too, which had to be worked off.

Yes, I realized how this point really holds true, and why the Microsoft island and other things from big companies in SL are so lifeless and trafficless. They aren't necessarily the best in their virtual class, and maybe they don't even belong in the virtual world because there's nothing for them to do there.

I can't think of a way for a candy bar to acquire value in SL. Kitchen Korner and other makers of simulated food absolutely coin money in SL because they are part of making peoples' props, their elaborate settings for weddings or parties or clubs which are where their main action and relationships are taking place. So realistic props are in demand, but they don't have to iritate with a bran, they just have to be realistic enough.

To succeed, Snickers would have to make something new happen -- have cards inside the candy (as they do in RL) which are lotteries, or which collect to make a puzzle, or have an unwrapping animations that people will just do over and over again to hear the crackle and see how neat it is.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by John Mims
July 10, 2006 @ 5:07 pm
     
 
If you want to do business in virtual worlds, you've got to become a virtual world resident (at least long enough get a functional appreciation of its environment, opportunities, and established culture).


AMEN! It's like marketing in a country that you have never visited. Unlike buying media space, you can't look at SL stats and determine that's a good place to market. You have to live the experience to understand your suggestions to your clients.

How has our agency become involved?
- listen to podcasts (SecondCast mostly). every episode. especially the old ones. SL has changed lots in the last 6 months.
- build stuff. build a virtual agency. build personal stuff.
- explore, explore, explore.
- read tons and tons of blogs.
- read tons and tons of forum postings.
- talk to lots of AVs. i've met tons of people and asked them "what's cool to try." most of the things I'm able to share with my parents.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to script a can of Red Bull that will make me run faster. ;-)
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Giff-Forseti
July 11, 2006 @ 3:01 am
     
 
I definitely agree that one should "eat the dog food", as the old tech saying goes, before commenting too extensively on the platform.

That said, while I do spend a lot of time bringing agency ideas down to practicalities, sometimes those wild, imaginative concepts that spring from inexperience can be shaped into very good ideas. Sometimes not... like TSO snicker bars.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
July 11, 2006 @ 12:13 pm
     
 
I raised that very same point when commenting about the recent "Avatar-Based Marketing" event in SL. Lots of good supporting material here in both the post and the comments. Hopefully Paul Hemp will stop in and comment. And hopefully a few gung-ho marketers/advertisers will simply stop in and read.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by ReverendJeffy
July 11, 2006 @ 3:00 pm
     
 
I generally agree that idea of a magical snickers bar that makes you have more energy (or a Red Bull that actually gives you wings) is not the best form of advertising in a virtual world, but I wonder if we're not being too critical of these advertising agencies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself work in the emerging media department of a large advertising conglomerate. From personal experience, I can say that it's rather difficult to get across the idea that, when thinking about marketing in a world like Second Life, you have to think outside the box. Heck, sometimes it's difficult to get people to think outside the bounds of thirty-second spots. Is it possible that, when describing things to people who are used to mass market campaigns that don't involve high levels of interaction or, say, a virtual world, someone might use an idea that is understandable to the lowest common denominator?

Generally, when I see someone say something like, "Yeah! Let's create a Ruffles Sword of Saltiness that does extra damage to water creatures," or "Think if Snickers puts its candy bars in Second Life, and they gave players real energy," I take it with a grain of salt. People that work in advertising, even if they're comfortable with the virtual world they're talking about, really do have a tough job in describing this stuff to people that are not unfamiliar with it. It takes baby steps to get people used to and introduced to this stuff.

And, for that matter, what's so wrong with testing out ideas anyway? Innovation usually involves a ton of failed attempts. So what if an agency creates a virtual Snickers that doesn't do well and then ends up learning a little more about the world... at least they're learning more about the world and won't make the same mistake next time. What was that Fitzgerald wrote? "Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... and one fine morning..."
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
July 11, 2006 @ 6:26 pm
     
 
Thanks for the comments and linkage, folks.

I'd like to respond specifically to ReverendJeffy, whose words I've snipped and bolded below, interspersed with my replies...

...I wonder if we're not being too critical of these advertising agencies.

I call it like I see it, personally. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of negative criticism, but I condsider the discussion so far to be constructive and thoughtful.

...it's rather difficult to get across the idea that, when thinking about marketing in a world like Second Life, you have to think outside the box.

I appreciate that it must be difficult to explain virtual world marketing to traditional marketers. Rather than explain it in detail, it might be easier to demonstrate it. That's the strength of a virtual world--it's experiential.

Is it possible that, when describing things to people who are used to mass market campaigns that don't involve high levels of interaction or, say, a virtual world, someone might use an idea that is understandable to the lowest common denominator?

Dumbing-down virtual worlds is a fine idea, provided the abstraction accurately reflects reality. One of my complaints with Stoller's comment is that it's not accurate. If he'd proposed his genius Snicker idea for The Sims Online (referencing Prok's comments here), it would be an accurate reflection of what's possible.

Generally, when I see someone say something like, "Yeah! Let's create a Ruffles Sword of Saltiness that does extra damage to water creatures," or "Think if Snickers puts its candy bars in Second Life, and they gave players real energy," I take it with a grain of salt.

I'm pretty sure you have more experience with virtual worlds than most people reading the AdAge article. My opinion is that most readers would take these statements at face value since they simply don't know any better. Some readers echo statements they read from respected sources, and some even make decisions based on what they've read. A little misinformation can go a long way. I think it's a crying shame when bad decisions are made needlessly.

It takes baby steps to get people used to and introduced to this stuff.

Sure, but we're talking about adults here--adults who have the opportunity to make informed decisions based on best practices or at least previous efforts. With the right information, we need fewer baby steps (if any at all) before we're off and running.

And, for that matter, what's so wrong with testing out ideas anyway? Innovation usually involves a ton of failed attempts.

Nothing's wrong with testing out ideas, but it can be pointless to try to reinvent the wheel. I see a disturbing number of marketing folks--who seem to think they're being innovative--pondering virtual world issues that have already been thoroughly sliced, diced, strained, and digested by others (some of the people in this very discussion, for example)--hell, many of the blog entries I write about Second Life are probably rehashes of the same issues text-based and 2D virtual worlds experienced years ago.

So what if an agency creates a virtual Snickers that doesn't do well and then ends up learning a little more about the world... at least they're learning more about the world and won't make the same mistake next time.

In my opinion, a truly good agency is proactive, not reactive. And it's easy to be proactive by arming yourself with knowledge. I don't see virtual worlds as virgin territory. There's plenty of previous experience to draw upon. I'm willing to forgive a blunder if it was truly unavoidable. But my sense is that, overall, there's a sort of willful ignorance at work among some marketers eyeing virtual world venues. Worse than this, it's a big ol' echo-chamber of ignorance. This is the same mentality that contributed to the dot-bomb era, and as a survivor of that era, I feel entitled to point out when [in my opinion] the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Brace
July 11, 2006 @ 9:58 pm
     
 
Meh.

I already have a Snickers bar in SL. Or maybe its just an energy bar of some sort.

You eat it and your avatar starts going nutso with all the energy it just got!

Its really sorta cute and funny. You do that Homer Simpson running around in a circle on the floor type stuff; complete with green text letting everyone know Just How Damn Energized you are!

So well, Its been done already. I guess either Snickers can come slap the creator if indeed its a rip of they brand, (can't rember really) or come in and do something similar, or completely different.

Whatever.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Jason Rand
July 11, 2006 @ 11:05 pm
     
 
In Second Life, Snickers only satifies when you WEAR IT. Now I just need someone to make me some Snickers prim hair.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
July 12, 2006 @ 12:37 am
     
 
Look at all the free airtime Snickers (the Mars people) have gotten just from this discussion. And that's all they care about now, buzz, talk, branding. They don't care about avatar energy.

I guess I can't help wondering, Tony, if part of this narrative here for you is that you don't like big corporations and their advertising at root (you don't seem to, and often crab about them), and therefore you hope they will be confused enough when trying to walk the meandering paths in this mystical forest, that they won't penetrate too far into Lindenor and spoil it. And I don't blame you there. We may wind up being happy that all big companies buy private islands instead of mainland and therefore stay out of our view.

I've made the point that all these companies have been one-trick ponies so far, and we haven't seen the second trick from any of them yet.

It also strikes me that even if they fumble around, they'll figure out that it's just one more medium, or it's just one more market, not that special, and that they might have to do things like sponsor a line of avatar clothing, or sponsor an event, for the 'synergy' around their RL product. They may not be literal about making bars for energy.

There are too many check-gates in Second Life -- avatar limits, lag, ban lines, tier limits, attention span, event times, access-only, etc. -- to make it a big mass audience participating in a big mass medium like TV. It's rather atomized and niched. Maybe that's it's protection against the elements, maybe that's its doom, but it is its nature.

A candy company or soft-drink company used to dealing with perishables might come to see this mass-less mass medium (Bowling With 29 Other Avatars) as merely an inspiration and prototype tool, for them to make their own very light and very dumbed down virtual world. I think it's much more likely that instead of invading Second Life, they will crib from SL and other MMORPGs and virtual worlds and make little mini-worlds much like the advertising you see now on Yahoo, where there are movies and flash and games, or like the Pepsi Challenges that involve fiddling around and clicking on stuff and questing and getting prizes -- they'll build that stuff out a little more and accomplish what they need.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Giff-Forseti
July 12, 2006 @ 7:51 am
     
 
Prokofy wrote: "I've made the point that all these companies have been one-trick ponies so far, and we haven't seen the second trick from any of them yet."

I think you're right but give it time. We've basically been seeing a number of companies dip their toes in the water. First they want to test to see if something light works and then they're willing to invest in something more substantial. The danger of course is that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy -- if you do something insignificant, your results will be insignificant. There will be a few bolder organizations willing to do more, and they will raise the bar.

Electric Sheep just brought the MLB home run derby to SL, and streamed live video in while bobbleheads hit virtual baseballs and avatars paddled kayaks in the water outside the stadium. It seems to have been a hit, but we could only give 50-60 people the experience. In a sense that's a shame, but in this case MLB.com is right for testing the success of an event like this on a small scale before doing more.

It's early days yet...

SL is not like a game where you can force eyeballs through a checkpoint, or like a website where you have a home page. Population density is really spread out for technological reasons (an interesting question would be to analyze how much it happens for cultural reasons too) and that changes the way one has to approach it.

It's definitely new territory for many, and as such experimentation needs to happen. There will be successes and failures, but I agree with Tony that you need to arm yourself with "local knowledge" to increase the odds of success.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
July 12, 2006 @ 1:11 pm
     
 
Prok, wonder no more :) -- I'm generally not a fan of big corporations and as far as advertising goes, I can't think of a single way my life has been meaningfully improved by advertising. More often, my enjoyment of public space (real or virtual) and the consumption of media is hindered by advertising. I can't think of anything that's made better by having an ad in, on, or around it. So, yeah, I'm biased ;)
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by ReverendJeffy
July 12, 2006 @ 1:32 pm
     
 
Prokofy,

I find it really interesting that you mentioned how "atmoized and niched" Second Life is, because it totally fits in with the idea of the Long Tail in economics.

If you believe folks like Chris Anderson (and what's not to love, right?), the Internet is vastly affecting how businesses do business because markets with very small costs of storage and distribution allow for a wider variety of offerings that appeal to individual tastes. So, instead of having a hit-based market like we did before (where we had a few items that had a lot of sales volume), we're going to have a niche-based market where a lot of different items are sold, but in very small volumes (and those large amounts of small volume items will be more influential than the small amount of large volume items).

Anyway, yeah... that doesn't really do the Long Tail justice, but suffice to say marketing is going to become increasingly niche-based... it seems to me like Second Life would be great for that. Not only do you have niches defined along the lines of personal preferences (For example, in real life, I may be relegated to a geek niche, because of the communities I belong to for work purposes, but in Second Life, I have more control over how others percieve me), but you also have a scripting language that could, potentially, provide a wide amount of customization in message delivery.

In general, I think the largest problem is that the volume of users is so low. Currently, around 188,000 users logged on within the last 60 days. MMOChart lists the Second Life user base at about 65,000. And yet, still marketers are interested in it. Which seems pretty interesting to me.

Tony,

Your life has never been enriched by advertisements? Haven't you ever been stuck in the woods, desperate to use the bathroom, and only had an issue of Vogue lying around?
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
July 12, 2006 @ 1:44 pm
     
 
ReverendJeffy,

I'm agnostic about the Long Tail idea that everybody so enthusiastically blathers and blogifies about, and I look forward to reading the original book and thinking some more about it. I've seen a lot of specialized books or niche books meant to be sold off websites or by various institutions or non-profits or clubs or whatever in fact end up in the bargain bin at the Strand because people even misread their niches. The Long Tail has a nasty whiplash.

The Long Tail in SL is actually just a lot of identical vertebrae, even if they are separated. There are a million and one flat pancake island parcels of 4096 m2 with McMansions made by Damani and waterslides made by Siggy and Lost Dog poseballs inside on Ingrid's furniture. Or there's hundreds of boys from New Jersey with crossed swords on their backs living in little oriental houses with wind chimes. This is a lather, rinse, repeat experience. I've often said that whatever totalitarian force can whip through all these little pockets of seeming sectarianism, shut off from others and new impressions, will be horribly effective in spreading memes. Philip Linden calls it fads. You might think of it as some really sticky marketing gimmick where everybody will want a shoulderbag with a frog swimming it or a huggable teddy bear. Somehow, every single tenant on every sim has a rolled-up pair of pants held by a kerchief, and it's because though they are niched out the wazoo, they go to some public spots like clubs or welcome areas and check each other out. So however shows up first in the public space with the rolled-up pant leg wins. That's why those ass-hats in the WA doing all the shenanigans are so persistent -- they know that if they try enough acts and memes, something will stick with phenomenal power.

So, sure, there are niches, and faux niches and actual niches and nichelets and nichettes but like the Spanish conquistidoras with the Incas, just get to one big leader or spread smallbox and you can knock it over with a feather. Sad, but true.

The media square inches the Lindens have garnered out of this mere 65,000 is what matters -- the proportion is way, way beyond anything else. WoW has to do something pretty amazing these days to get into mainstream media. Even 6 million people isn't quite a story anymore if there are many times that on a MySpace. But SL is getting into mainstream, major media constantly, not just for the same story over and over again, like WoW (which is "Wow! We're big! We have lots of customers! And boy they spend a lot of time on line here killing monsters!). SL is able to get into the news by constantly developing and changing. That's quite an accomplishment.

Advertisements and big corporations don't bother me, Tony. I guess I'm just a crass American. They provide jobs and products for people, often at a low cost. Gosh, I'm drinking a Diet Coke right now and I'm super happy : )
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Jason Rand
July 12, 2006 @ 3:27 pm
     
 
Perhaps my sense of humor is too far out the long tail for anyone here to appreciate, but I was quite serious about my desire for some Snickers prim hair. I think that would be funny, and would make a good, um, coversation piece.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by ReverendJeffy
July 25, 2006 @ 4:30 pm
     
 
Alright... hate to post a comment on this, but Tony's right. Bad analogies breed things like "The Internet is a series of tubes." I was wrong.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by volkov
March 7, 2007 @ 12:40 pm
     
 
I think that advertising in Second Life is very interesting, and opens up many possibilites for marketing. I wrote about Second Life in my own blog:
callfromnextlife.blogspot.com
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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