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Marketing’s New Manifestation: Why Avatars Best Represent Online User Engagement, Part II

Written on
Jul 18, 2006 
Author
Jesse Shannon  |

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the value of marketing to avatars in a general sense. Generalities are great, but for something as strange and new as marketing to an artificial entity, real world examples can be extremely valuable in making something so conceptually indistinct a little more concrete.

Of the brave few who have embraced this new and exciting realm, there is one example that truly exemplifies all the possibilities that await in these virtual spaces. A name that has already become synonymous with edgy and innovative, Scion has embraced the marketing to avatars concept with their ground-breaking campaign in Whyville, the virtual community for the elusive tweens segment — kids age 8-15. Right off the bat, we see that Scion is taking an unusual step — the kids they are marketing to in Whyville are not even old enough to drive. So why bother trying to reach an audience that is legally barred from using your product? It’s called vision.

First, a little background. On April 21st, Whyville rolled out a new and exciting feature for the kids in the Whyville community. In a virtual world that depended completely upon users walking around or taking the Whyville bus to meet up with each other, a new kind of virtual transportation was introduced — driving. And just like that, a whole new paradigm of virtual movement was introduced, and the Scion brand was right at the center of it. Besides the new freedom of movement, this was a big deal for the kids since none of them had ever owned or driven a car before.

Now, in the confines of their favorite virtual meeting place, a facsimile of this experience was being offered. Though the dangers and sense of speed that comes with driving a car are absent, the social and status aspect of driving a car remain intact. In many important ways, the kids of Whyville were experiencing for the first time that seminal American experience — owning their first car. And they were all Scions.

The consumer engagement that this introduction has offered Scion is in many ways beyond measure, but in other ways it is extremely measurable. For example, during the first week of its rollout, the Whyville team was able to count the number of times the word “Scion” had been typed in a chat window by a member of the community. In one week, the number of utterances of the word Scion went from 0 to 78,000! In practically an instant, Scion became an integral part of the Whyville cultural lexicon. Under the best of conditions, a banner or commercial placed in the world could never hope to have such a dramatic effect. And remember that Whyville as a “place” represents the most concentrated collection of Tweens in the entire country.

Inhabiting the lexicon of the community was just one aspect of the engagement however. In barely an instant, Scion was also able to position itself as the ultimate status symbol in the community. Already in the midst of an ever expanding battle of avatar one-upmanship, the Scion became the ultimate “face-part” to customize your digital self in the virtual world. The Scion part itself was even customizable, furthering Scion’s established message as a brand that caters to the individual.

The sense of status for a virtual Scion owner is further enhanced by the fact that the owner can drive their friends around town, just like in real life. The sense of cool that comes with being the first kid on the block to own a car actually translates rather nicely into the virtual realm. Because the Scions fetch a hefty price in the in-game currency, clams, there is a natural scarcity effect within the virtual marketplace. A minority of Whyville users are devoted enough to have earned the 15,000 clams required to “purchase” a Scion, and customizing can push the price up to 20,000 (sound familiar?).

Besides the increased value this gives the Scion brand within the world, it also has the side effect of rewarding those members of the community that are most invested and engaged in the virtual world. Applying this method of natural selection is a great way to capture the all important social “connectors” that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of in “The Tipping Point”. As Gladwell puts it, connectors are the kinds of people that “know everyone”. They act as the central hubs of a social network, connecting scores of people to each other that would otherwise not be connected at all. In terms of a viral campaign, connectors are the most active agents and the primary force behind a message that manages to spread far and wide.





Jesse Shannon is the president of the premiere interactive marketing agency, SAJE Media. As a corporate citizen, he busted his chops in the dynamic world of video game production gaining working experience in Activision's Los Angeles and Tokyo offices. His most recent work as an employee was contracting with Honda on their ASIMO humanoid robot project spreading the good word on the coming personal robotics industry to the world (and Disneyland).

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