Virtual world marketing is not necessarily a fantasy

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There is a lot of ink dedicated today to whether or not "in-world" marketing actually works. In-world marketing is advertising dollars spent in virtual worlds such as Second Life or There.com. If you read Forbes or Wired magazines, you may come away thinking that in-world users simply do not want marketers in-world, and point to a boycotted Nike store and a ghost town-like W Hotel in Second Life as examples.

A gut response is no, consumers do not want to be marketed to in-world. There is enough marketing in the real world that it allegedly takes away from the purity of the in-world experience.

But, if you talk to other marketers - for example, those who work for MTV, VH1 and on The O.C. - who have created branded worlds for teenagers to visit the landscape of popular TV shows and party with the characters, then it is a new hotspot.

The idea of a virtual world is that it should be about fantasy, and in-world experiences should lend themselves to creating this fantasy - be it designed by for the community or designed to push a brand. A fantasy is not about buying sneakers or staying in a trendy hotel, or any experiences that one can get at any local mall or downtown.

If marketers are undeterred, there are some guidelines to keep in mind.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say that advertising in virtual worlds is like the new sliced bread to in-world participants," said Michael Wilson, CEO of There.com. "But when done well, it can have a very good response."

If marketers want to grab a consumer's attention in mainstream virtual worlds, such as Second Life and There.com, then they have to think like designers and not like advertisers.

CMG created a tower in There.com and threw events for bands including the Beastie Boys, Korn, MIMS and Yellowcard, where avatars were able to meet the band member's avatars. It threw four parties over a 10-week period and saw 42,774 visits to its interactive kiosks, 17,463 visits to the tower, 4,363 attendees to four live events and 1,258 pieces of virtual band merchandise sold.

This represents 4.2% of an assumed 1 million users engaging in some degree, which is a decent amount of traffic for online advertising.

According to There.com's Wilson, selling MP3s in an emotional setting where the visitors get to meet the band is very natural, versus trying to sell a computer in a place where people are not shopping for real world items such as computers.

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