Update: Wal Mart’s “Virtual Clothing Store” Hopes to Redefine E-Retail

Back in September 2009, Pixels
and Policy reported on how designer Norma Kamali planned to introduce
her line of Wal Mart clothing exclusively through virtual worlds.
Prospective customers could create an avatar with their measurements
and quickly flip through an entire collection of clothing as if they
were in the infamous retailer's fluorescent halls.

Today we take a look at how Wal
Mart's virtual clothing stores reinforce another argument we've made in
the past — that advertisers are getting smarter about how they market
products in the virtual world.

Looking back at Wal Mart's Gamble

The popular observation about
companies looking to market products in environments like Second Life
is that they make a big splash on launch day and quickly see foot
traffic dwindle to nothing. Traditionally, the Metaverse has been
unwelcoming to companies looking to turn a quick buck in virtual worlds
without doing the necessary model-shifting required for the new
landscape.

Designer Norma Kamali is reversing the trend by selling her new clothing line exclusively in the Metaverse using a smart, user-friendly toolkit.

 

Kamali sells her "Norma Kamali for Wal-Mart" clothing in the fashion-obsessed virtual world Roiworld,
famous for bringing fashion snobbery to an entirely new virtual level.
For their part, Roiworld was so happy to have Kamali sign on that they gave her an entire section of the world as a modern day conquest prize.

An interesting point made in an article from PaidContent, the journal of soulless virtual branding and marketing:

What
makes this interesting is that Kamali isn’t selling virtual goods in
Roiworld.com—which is what brands like K-Swiss and Rocawear have done
in the past—the designer is using the game as a platform to sell real
clothes.

As anyone who has spent time
in virtual worlds can attest, the vast majority of avatars are
testaments to self-idealization. Heaving busts, tall, thin, tan, most
bear little resemblance to the millions of people on the other side of
the computer screen.
Consumers purchase clothing based on how they'd like to look, and nothing enables that more than a customizable avatar.

What's so interesting is that
Kamali's way is just one of many that forward-thinking companies are
taking when it comes to marketing products in virtual worlds. From
in-game billboards to virtual clothing models, companies hoping for
success in the virtual world are no longer expecting consumers to come
to them. The active consumer paradigm is growing in strength.

Billboards in Azeroth?

It isn't surprising that developers are turning to outside companies for in-world branding. Dominant companies like Electronic Arts and Blizzard Entertainment have seen their share prices tumble in recent weeks as tight credit and flagging consumer spending rattle even the solid bastions of sports games and World of Warcraft.

Anyone who played Pirates of the Caribbean Online
received a crash course in the future of branding. The game, a
free-to-play MMORPG designed to promote the third movie in Disney's
fantasy series, hit big among the spendthrift teen market and continues
to serve as an interactive intermission while Disney hacks out a fourth installment.

 

Now Sony is opening Free Realms, its newest online game, to lustful marketing agencies worldwide.

As
Gamasutra notes, Free Realms has racked up over five million users
since its launch in April, most of them young gamers attracted to its
social networking and free-to-play aspects.

Though I can't for the life of me discern what it is Free Realms actually does
aside from slapping some generic trolls and rats into a chat-and-grind
structure, brand agents are keen to market their products to children
in the impressionable 13-17 age bracket, and Sony is happy to oblige.

A representative from Sony told Brand-E:

“We are always looking to partner with groups that really make sense,”
says Ivy. “Since our primary demographic is tweens and teens, we are
sensitive to finding partners that speak to the age group with some
authenticity, but also maintain the wholesomeness of the brand equity.”

This is telling on one major
front: It shows that corporations will aggressively seek to add brand
content that appeals to the player base of the game but doesn't
necessarily agree with the flow of the virtual world. One could find
"Ye Old iPod" on a quest, perhaps, even if the item seems out of place
in the scenery of the virtual world.

Will this advertising plan prove effective? Industry
voices are confident – perhaps overly so – that virtual worlds will
prove as open to intrusive advertising as television and radio
.
This overlooks the importance of a game's lore and user-created
history. The active consumer nature of virtual worlds defies anything
experienced in television, the passive consumer outlet par excellence.

In a world that already has a persistent "flavor" of experience, with
its own lore and history, how will consumers react to suddenly seeing
out-of-place advertising?

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