By Justin Townsend, CEO of IGA Worldwide
Virtual worlds exist on many levels, catering for varying audiences – so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing experimentation.
We should recognise though, that virtual worlds are not games, the main reason being that there is no ‘objective’, e.g. to complete a task. Consumer behaviour in virtual worlds more closely resembles the kind of consumer behaviour we see through web browsing or in chat rooms.
In virtual worlds ‘residents’ arrive, chat with other fellow residents and make transactions – like buying clothes, music, or even some kind of in-world privilege. Then they leave until next time.
Brands have entered virtual worlds because that’s where the consumers are. Marketers know that for some brands, access to the buyer is no longer through TV, magazines, billboards or radio – but through something more interactive, virtual, and where they spend the most time becoming absorbed within that media. And some brands have engaged in a truly compelling way.
What Reebok is doing in Second Life, for example, is particularly innovative. In-world, you can buy Reebok trainers for your avatar that are coloured and branded as you like. You can then choose to buy the footwear in real life – with Reebok making your self-designed trainers to order, delivering them to your real front door. It doesn’t stop there.
Reebok takes note of what footwear residents design and buy, how they’re worn and what colour schemes are chosen. They use this information to improve their marketing in the real world.
But just as the appetite for social networks – such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook – demonstrates the happy coexistence of different demographics online, the challenge is now for marketers to choose which virtual world best represents their target market, and to understand how to appeal to that market. Emerging forms of advertising are proving to be highly effective at targeting the most elusive yet lucrative of audiences.
Gaia Online, for example, is more popular with teen users, whereas Second Life’s average users are in their 30s. And in July this year Virgin announced that it would launch its own virtual world named A World of my Own, which would focus not on an age demographic, but on music fans. Perhaps we will see the kind of brand interaction there as we have done with MySpace in the 2-D Web.
So brands will no doubt leave Second Life, just as brands sometimes advertise in one publication over another.
In-game advertising offers the kind of brand interaction analysis and measurement that gives marketers plenty of reasons to engage with the consumer in this way, so they can make well-educated decisions as to where, when and how to engage with their target audience.
A brand can tell how often its virtual products are used, seen or simply glanced at. They can compare that to the ROI they would get from another platform. And, more importantly, brands can follow their consumer market into this realm of virtual worlds in a way that works.
This is not just branding your firm’s office. It’s being part of the consumer’s own world, and recognising that traditional media is not reaching a growing numbers of consumers.
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