Saturday, September 20, 2008

Virtual World Marketing That Works: My Top 3 Tips


So last year, most people decided that marketing real products in virtual worlds like Second Life doesn’t work. Since then, however, I’ve come across some avatar-driven advertising campaigns with very impressive numbers. In Gaia Online, for example, users grabbed over a million virtual copies of a Toyota Scion; in Second Life, a promotion for the IMAX screening of the latest “Harry Potter” movie was credited for boosting the movie’s ticket sales online.

Why do campaigns like these work where others have failed? I discussed that at a presentation I gave at the Web 2.0 Expo this week in New York. Here are my main reasons, packaged into three tips for future marketers:

Worlds With User-Created Content Are Good Marketing Venues:
Habbo Hotel from Finland-based Sulake Corp. reports strong results from its marketing of real-world products, primarily those associated with pop stars and TV/movies. Jeremy Monroe, Sulake’s North American director of marketing and business development, attributes this success to Habbo’s open-ended, creative game play. "At its core, Habbo is about social interaction, having fun building a world for self-expression and creative experiences,” Monroe told me. “Products…that exemplify these traits or can add to the existing sandbox of user-generated content game play are a great start." (While Second Life is entirely user-created, its most notoriously unsuccessful marketing campaigns failed to leverage this aspect of the culture.)

Market to the Web 2.0 Ecology Around The Virtual World:
Because virtual worlds are by their very nature dynamic and synchronous, a tremendous amount of activity related to them actually takes place elsewhere, in the Web 2.0 content-sharing ecology — screenshots sent to Flickr, machinima uploaded to YouTube, blogs and conferencing systems where users discuss their latest experiences. In Gaia Online, for instance, 30 percent of user activity occurs in the site’s messaging boards compared with 10 percent in the virtual world itself. To capitalize on this for the Scion campaign, Gaia VP Joe Hyrkin told me, they offered Scion-branded “driver’s licenses” that Gaia users could add to their forum signatures.

Serve Existing Community Needs:
With Second Life, new users enter a strange, overwhelming world without many objects in their inventory, and are usually too intimidated to talk with the locals. To serve this need, the agency behind a promotion for IMAX created “buzz agent” avatars who cheerfully engaged “noobs” in Second Life’s Welcome Area, offering them tips on using the interface — all while handing out “Harry Potter” memorabilia and directing them to IMAX’s retail site.

Of course, while these success stories might encourage marketers to take a second look at Second Life and other virtual worlds, the metrics of success still haven’t been agreed upon. That’s why many are eagerly awaiting a Forrester Research report that will try to define and standardize virtual marketing ROI. So am I. Stay tuned.

Disclosure: I gave a single paid speaking appearance at Gaia Online about my Second Life book.