Guinness Markets Beer Through Create-Your-Own Virtual Worlds

Guinness Another innovative company is about to draw on the high-return potential of the virtual world: Famed brewing company Guinness bets it can sell you beer by engaging you in a virtual environment.

Guinness will be pioneering a fully integrated virtual worlds approach that draws on several open source and social networking tools. It looks like a winner.

Read on to find out what Guinness is brewing, and whether it'll satisfy virtual world veterans.

Did Guinness Hit Virtual Gold?

According to a great article on the ad-industry blog Advertising Age, Guinness has been working on a new take on virtual communication that makes use of everything from Facebook to Google Earth. From the article:

Guinness is moving its marketing online in order to build a more interactive relationship with drinkers. 

Users can select their own area of the planet and then create a bespoke
landscape for their territory, modeled on the terrains of Brazil,
Australia, Japan, Canada or Nepal. Through Facebook, they can then ask
friends to contribute their own kingdoms, until an entire planet has
been created. Users are also required to download and install the
Google Earth plug-in.

Lalo Telling recently left us a comment about how businesses that "sell soda to avatars that can't drink" are doomed to fail. We agree completely – and we think that's why Guinness abandoned the emphasis on beer in favor of freeform creation and socializing under the watchful eye of a Guinness logo.

Our article on how companies can improve their virtual world marketing stressed interactivity and engagement, not just passive virtual advertising. In terms of a unique turn for a company traditionally known for television ads, Guinness might have a winner in its build-a-world model.

By creating a fun experience that isn't directly shilling beer, Guinness will draw on two of the Internet's most influential personalities: creators and networkers.

Creators will be drawn to the unique world construction system Guinness set up. If the creators are impressed, they'll spread the word through forums, blogs, and free viral advertising. Networkers will draw on their vast social networking capital to complete beautiful, complex worlds shared by dozens of friends. By approaching creators and networkers through Facebook, Guinness insures its virtual marketing gets out to a massive number of people.

So far, one important thing is missing from Guinness's virtual world – an incentive to keep playing. Luckily, Guinness has one of the best incentives around – free beer:

The more diverse the planet, the more water droplets Guinness will
embed into the world they are building. When users discover a certain
number of water droplets, they get the key to unlock a "golden pint"
and win a case of Guinness to share with friends. The ultimate winner
gets a year's supply of beer.

Building "Guinness World"

The strategy works something like this: Users who share the Guinness ad with the most people will complete their worlds quickly, amassing water droplets that can be redeemed for a case of Guinness to share with their world-building buddies. In return, Guinness gets dozens of engaged eyes per world, all linking their fun experience to Guinness and receiving Guinness as a reward. 

In every corner of this experiment, smart brand marketing prevails. That's because the ad agency behind "Guinness World" is no stranger to virtual marketing or the emerging technology trends for 2010. The digital production company Unit 9 has had fingers in many tech pies, including the iPhone's cool AirTennis app and online games for companies like Nestle:

The agency's executive creative director, Paul Brazier, said, "Google
Earth was the obvious starting point for the campaign. The challenge
was to enable users to bring an imaginary world to life in the browser
window, without sacrificing any of the key features that make the
application what it is. Expansive photo-real terrains, elegant camera
moves, seamless zooms and horizon tilts have all been harnessed,
enabling users to explore the planets the co-create with friends."

Unit 9 is no stranger to interactivity, and Guinness is no stranger to taking wild risks in marketing their product. As a result, Guinness may gain a competitive edge due in part to its willingness to take high-risk, high-reward steps into the virtual world. Guinness engages customers on their turf instead of expecting the consumer to look around for interesting marketing.

If only more companies were so astute.