A virtual world is a funhouse mirror reflection of the real world. But while a funhouse mirror might present a skinny person as a short and fat one, a world like Second Life might present a skinny person as a robot, or a wizard. No matter how fanciful or outrageous, nearly everything in Second Life has an analog in the real world. It was inevitable that real marketers and real advertisers would eventually make an appearance too.
James Au worked for three years as a virtual “embedded journalist” for Linden Labs, creators of Second Life, and has been there since the beginning. “When I first started I was fairly skeptical that real-world companies would benefit Second Life as a community… I was afraid that anything that would impose itself from the outside, especially big companies would really mess it up.”
As real-world advertisers have moved in, they’ve been compartmentalizing themselves in separate sections of the game (like private islands) that players have to actually travel to. “It’s very much opt-in,” added Au. “I was afraid that the magic would be lost if too much real-world commercial interests got involved, but now the world is so huge, and the real-world advertisers are more interested in creating somewhat separate marketing experiences.”
It’s Real Virtual
On June 17th, L.A.-based clothing manufacturer American Apparel launched a two-story virtual clothing store within Second Life. Second Life users can hop out to American Apparel’s own private island and visit the virtual two-story store, which resembles an actual retail outlet, and clothe their avatars in virtual versions of American Apparel products. It was a marketing move that led to many puzzled looks at in the American Apparel marketing department when Raz Schionning first proposed it. “When I pitched the concept, everyone just scratched their heads and said, you want to do what?”
And it’s not all virtual. Second Lifers who purchase virtual threads from the Second Life American Apparel store get a coupon for 15% off on real American Apparel clothing. “You can embed web links into Second Life objects and it’ll launch the web browser,” said Au, “You could click on the item and it would launch the web browser and take you to a discounted item page on American Apparel.”
To date, the virtual American Apparel store has sold about 2,000 items, for the USD equivalent of $1 each. In July, American Apparel plans to launch several new product lines, and test-market a new style of jeans two months before they hit the brick and mortar retail stores. “If you’ve been in Second Life,” said Schionning, “you’ll notice that fashion plays a big part of the experience. How you dress your avatar is really the primary reflection of who you are.”
While American Apparel may be the only prominent advertiser in Second Life, there’s still so much potential. “I don’t think the project can be called conservative marketing,” said Schionning, “but I think what we did within second life is rather conservative in that we built this two story store that’s firmly planted on the ground. Well when everybody can fly, why does it have to be firmly planted on the ground? Maybe that was just thinking too linearly. Maybe that was just thinking too real-life as opposed to thinking Second Life.”