The massively multiplayer world Second Life, a creation of 3D software developer Linden Labs, represents a bold new trend in online marketing. Auto manufacturer Toyota set up a virtual city in Second Life so users could test drive an electronic version of the Scion xB compact hatchback. Clothing manufacturer American Apparel opened a virtual store in Second Life that sold virtual versions of American Apparel clothes and used the environment to get feedback on a newly developed style of jeans. Many other companies have followed suit. But is Second Life really a good place to spend your marketing dollars?
Second Life jives heavily with the Web 2.0 mentality. It’s community-based and gives users control of just about everything. In fact, almost everything in Second Life, except for the land itself, is created by users with the scripting and 3D modeling tools provided by Linden Labs. Users buy and sell these in-game creations, powering a growing in-game economy made entirely of virtual “Linden Dollars.” The fluidity of the environment makes Second Life both an attractive and an uncertain platform for marketing.
For a Second Life marketing campaign to be a success, it has to generate word-of-mouth spillover into the Internet at-large. The audience that can be reached directly by a Second Life campaign is actually very small. That entails about 20,000 to 100,000 people over a period of a few months, estimates Reuben Steiger, the founder of Millions of Us, a company that builds campaigns in virtual 3D worlds like Second Life. However, those few who experience the campaign usually spend anywhere from one to five hours interacting with it. “That’s a level of engagement that’s off the charts,” Steiger notes, considering that most online advertisers measure engagement in seconds.
In order to participate in a campaign on Second Life, users have to actively seek them out. The virtual land area in Second Life is about five times the size of Manhattan and growing. Finding a virtual construction requires knowledge of that location’s coordinates through other means, usually a blog post. Those who actively seek out a campaign are already interested in the brand. That, coupled with the high level of interactivity, can create brand evangelists, influential voices online who blog about things they’ve experienced and can amplify the reach of a campaign. “We’ve seen exposure and reach in the blogosphere anywhere from 10-30 million impressions, and we see similar numbers in main stream media coverage,” says Steiger.