MTV's 'unreal worlds' get viewers seeking ads online

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Viacom's music network MTV was a forerunner in music television, and now the 25-year-old brand is an early adopter of creating its own branded virtual worlds.

Instead of just developing a brand identity within Linden Lab's popular virtual world Second Life like Dell Computer, Toyota and Adidas did, the veteran music channel is working with online environment builder Makena Technologies Inc.'s There.com to create its own worlds similar to Disney's online world Virtual Magic Kingdom. The MTV branded virtual worlds are a space for fans of its "Laguna Beach" and "Pimp My Ride" to connect with the television shows and their advertisers online.

"We saw the TV show as an entry port into these virtual worlds for viewers that wanted a deeper engagement," said Tim Rosta, senior vice president of integrated marketing at MTV, New York. "It all creates a deeper level of engagement of the television environment with the new media world today."

Virtual "Laguna Beach" is MTV's first virtual world. Its TV show parent was followed by spinoff "The Hills," which led to a spinoff virtual "The Hills." The worlds are modeled after the show's location, which is modeled after the real world Orange County, CA. Celebrities from each show engage consumer online personalities, or avatars, in the virtual world. Average interaction with the MTV brand is 34 minutes. This success led to the launch of a "Pimp My Ride" world, which debuted last March. All the MTV worlds are interconnected.

MTV's virtual world is not just about connecting with the TV station, but with a host of advertising partners as well. Advisory firm Garter predicts that 80 percent of active Internet users will join a virtual world by the end of 2011, a large audience for advertisers to tap into. Advertisers in world include Cingular, Pepsi and Proctor and Gamble Co.'s Secret brand deodorant.

Cingular created an avatar, called Jack to interact with consumers and promote Cingular's products MTV's virtual world. Jack is a party promoter who gives free services like voice over IP, skins for cell phones and digital cell phones to avatars to enhance the in-world experience. In order to receive the free products, avatars have to talk to Jack. This requires a mere interaction and no exchange of traditional "real-world" marketing information from an avatar's consumer.

Secret extended its national "Share Your Secret" campaign, which encouraged consumers to share secrets with the brand on its interactive Web site at www.secret.com, by creating a confessional booth where avatars could record their secrets in a booth in virtual world.

According to Mr. Rosta, 85 percent of users chose to interact with brands. Thus far, the network reports consumers have spent more than 100 million minutes in MTV's online world.

Pepsi's campaign aims to eventually drive real-world e-commerce.

For now, the beverage giant offers avatars free promotional Pepsi dollars through a series of brand interaction games in MTV's virtual worlds. Avatars use this money to buy soda or Pepsi apparel such as hoodies and tank tops. Mr. Rosta said the next stage of development would be to sell these products to consumers outside of the digital realm.

"Our next intention for this is that you can buy products that you liked in the virtual world in the real world," he said. "E-commerce is an exciting opportunity for the next iteration."

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