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Panel on Marketing to Virtual Avatars, Part 2

part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 Ansible Berkman: We shall begin with a small blurb from each panelist on a very broad question I'll ask them and then the conversation will be open to the audience. Please right-click on me and send me a note if you would like to participate. I'll hold a queue of individuals and call on you when the person before you has finished "speaking". This panel has the incredible task of answering a very basic and yet large question: do virtual worlds present a significant marketing potential for real-life companies? We shall leave the moral debate on this topic for another discussion. For now, I would like invite you to frame your answer to this important question from a marketing/logistical and even technical standpoint. Let's start with Paul Hemp/Hempman Richard, the author of the Harvard Business Review article. He'll give us a short overview of what he has written and why he wanted to bring together such various minds to chime in on this issue Hempman Richard: Okay, well, I'm most interested in hearing what others on the panel and those in the audiences have to say about my argument that virutual worlds and games represent an unexplored opportunity for marketers of RL companies, and that avatars are in some way distinct consumers from their creators. That is, that we're not just talking about the "where " of a new mareketing frontier but the "who". Ansible Berkman: Let's go over to Zero Grace aka Tony Walsh. Zero Grace: I think it's worth exploring not only this virtual world of Second Life, but also other virtual worlds as well... Uh, anyway, I guess I was going to say that it's valuable to compare and contrast the varying landscapes in order to determine viability, etc. Also I'm wondering where the typist ends and where the avatar begins, in terms of being a consumer that can be targeted. Ansible Berkman: I'm intentionally skipping Hamlet a bit and moving on to Cristiano. Cristiano Midnight: Well, to expand on what Tony said, I do think that each environment is different and more or less viable for various reasons – SL, I think, presents the most comprehensive environment to explore this issue in. No other environment I can think of offers the depth of content creation that SL does. That said, I think any company that comes along and does not understand the environment and just treats it as another marketing venue is doomed to fail. I think, for example, the way that American Apparel has entered SL has been a very interesting and effective thing - I knew nothing of their company beforehand, and the clothes are actual clothes I would wear on my avatar. So at least marketing to me, they were quite effective -- I would be more inclined to explore their RL offerings as well. Ansible Berkman: Thanks Cris, very good intro to your perspective on this. Hamlet? Hamlet Au: The potential for marketing in online worlds is truly staggering, especially when you take the definition beyond straight up MMOs like World of Warcraft or user-created worlds like Second Life. For example, there's Habbo Hotel in Europe and Cyworlds in South Korea, both much more limited avatar-driven experiences, but online worlds all the same. For that matter, even MySpace and other Web-driven interfaces have MMO aspects as well. But today we're also seeing some clear examples of issues need to consider. Online worlds very much involve social contracts in the sense meant by Nozick and Rawls, to cite two great Harvard alums. And creating a world that's ideal for marketers *and* its subscribers is a matter of finding a balance between Nozick's libertarian society and Rawls' free society with government assistance (i.e., the company in this case.) So when the social contract fails or becomes too restrictive, the dangers emerge. As we see in Cristiano's decision to close down his Snapzilla today, very much the Flickr of Second Life, in protest of Linden Lab's recent changes to the billing policy. This is actually a good thing for the vibrancy of the world, just like the tax revolt of three years ago was. Hopefully LL and the residents will strike a compromise between their interests. The larger moral for marketers is to understand in online worlds, especially user-created worlds like this one, the consumer is also the creator, and you have to work with them together on creating a worthwhile experience. Ansible Berkman: Now, moving on to Snoopy. SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: First thoughts. Virtual worlds face what i call "the gravity of reality" (truly a force) on a number of fronts. A couple of big ones: As people spend more time using virtual worlds that are web-connected, they'll want to sew them into the rest of their lives -- identity, friendship, and work-wise. So it makes sense for outside offerings to come in and mingle with the homegrown fruit. It's natural. Over time that distinction will blur. Also the massively multi-player VW industry itself is changing. We're moving from Blizzard's throwing $100 million top-down at fantasy games like World of Warcraft to much smaller amounts of money; going into smaller, flexible, networked virtual environments like we see with Second Life and soon Multiverse and others. Environments where anything can be built, not just dragons, and real life money is encouraged to come on in. Real life companies will contribute to that development, creating their own "3d websites", coupling virtual and real versions of their products, testing out designs, styles, and campaigns in VWs, and ultimately taking products from the VW and making them real. Ansible Berkman: Fizik? Fizik Baskerville: I think we should step back a bit, ask why suddenly the interest. The larger media companies have been searching for an alternative to the 'interruption model' or the classic 30/90 second TV commercial. They've been talking and needing a place for a 'real' brand immersion experience. Platforms like SL are the perfect place. The issue is, making sure that the brand immersion experience is built and created from the communities wants and needs. Also, whenever something takes 'time', in this case the time absorption taken into VW. Companies will know that the time spent is valuable and a commodity of trade. In short, the VW experience is the brand immersion experience; that’s an exciting new era for most of the media companies and brands. Ansible Berkman: And last but not least, Razor, the American Apparel representative. Razor Rinkitink: Hello everyone. My RL name is Raz Schionning and I live and work in Los Angeles. I'm the Web Director for American Apparel - so I oversee our web sites, web development, and online marketing. AA opened the doors to Lerappa Island and our SL store a week ago and we're very excited about it. Why did we do it and what do we hope to achieve? On a personal level I see Second Life as a budding example of the evolution of the “web experience”. The potential is amazing and very compelling. The constant expansion and participation is energizing. Our store in Second Life is an experiment in how we may establish relationships with our customers in this evolving medium. To speak like a marketing person for a moment, I see a strong overlap between SL users and AA consumers. They are sophisticated, educated, have money to spend, and fall into our target age range. So it makes sense to investigate how we can speak to this community. Not unlike the way we approach any potential audience in order to grow our business. That said, I have few expectations about generating significant revenue right now – it's not the objective at this point. As with all the marketing we do, we’re being innovative and keeping our ears to the ground; we want to see how people will respond to our presence in SL. part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5



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