digitally marketing their new electric car to a slew of virtual
reality themed Hollywood blockbusters, focusing on virtual worlds as a
potential revenue source is all the rage. But as companies have repeatedly shown by high-publicity failures, marketing in the virtual world is a tricky proposition.
Pixels and Policy looks at how to effectively market products to eager eyes in the Metaverse.
Pioneering the Virtual Marketplace
Few real-world corporations make lasting impressions on the
Metaverse. The poster child of flawed real-to-virtual marketing is, of course, American Apparel. The clothing giant reportedly paid Aimee Weber handsomely to develop a Second
Life presence that went belly-up a year after disappointing sales figures.
Today’s advertising landscape is decidedly more diverse than
even a generation ago. A corporation hoping for any measurable amount of brand
expansion must effectively advertise across four mediums: Television, radio,
print, and the Internet. The Internet is a beast all its own.
The Internet multiplies the payoff of an advertising blitz,
but its ever-shifting terrain also creates unique challenges. A viral campaign may
become a phenomenon on YouTube, or it may peter out unnoticed. The latest
release of Firefox blocks once-profitable banner ads by default.
Increasingly, advertising a brand is about getting that
brand to new terrain first, whether by quirky campaigns or sheer brand-name
inundation. This demand for new terrain, new eyes, and new tactics brought
corporations to the virtual world.
Advertising in the
A successful ad campaign in the virtual world can create a
great deal of attention, and the Metaverse draws marketing departments for two
main reasons: Inexpensive inputs and potentially massive positive gain. Let’s take
a quick look at why marketing on the Metaverse is a deceptively inviting
Marketing in the
virtual world is cheap. As we outlined a month ago in an article about
political campaigning in Second Life, a
well-managed outreach campaign can reach tens or hundreds of thousands of
avatars with only several thousand dollars of input. Multiply the input by
a hundred times, the American Apparel thinking goes, and the output will
This thinking is
flawed. As the Virtual Economy Research Network has shown in its research, publicity
in the virtual world is subject to harsh diminishing returns beyond the initial
layout of development capital.
A virtual store with an ad campaign will get
more visitors than a virtual store without, but a virtual store with an
advertising campaign ten times the scale won’t see much difference.
Why is this? Avatars get burned out. By the end of American
Apparel’s first month in Second Life, foot traffic at the virtual location
This is because American Apparel expected to draw
constant traffic to a store that rarely changed its style, offerings, or
incentives to visit. In the Metaverse, users are accustomed to an ever-changing experience. Companies
that fail to grasp this will not perform well.
How Can Companies
Companies like Wells Fargo create virtual presences in the
Metaverse, publicize them heavily, and then spend a similar sum announcing the
novelty of their new presence in a virtual environment.
Print and television
media may report on this story, but it’s going to draw relatively few new users
through a sign-up process and the initial task of navigating a new virtual world,
especially if they have no previous experience.
How can companies considering a virtual world marketing plan
move forward without duplicating the failures of American Apparel and countless
others? Here are two major tips to get ad executives thinking Metaversically:
First and most importantly, Metaverse users should be
treated not as an extension of a traditional marketing campaign, but as a demographic
that is significantly different than the real-world population.
virtual worlds, though human, willingly
accept the new social norms of their virtual world of choice. These norms
must be taken into account when developing an advertising plan.
Second, virtual worlds thrive on new content, and any space
that is not constantly offering something new and interesting will quickly be
replaced by a space with greater “fun potential.”
Virtual worlds users are
active consumers – they want to do,
especially in worlds that allow limitless content creation and manipulation. Avatars will not sit through a video, but
they will play a game that makes the same point.
These are just general guidelines, but from my experience
with virtual worlds and interviews with other players, they are largely
What this means is simple: Corporate marketing agencies can continue to pursue outmoded
strategies designed for the real world to little or no effect, or they can
evolve just as the Metaverse evolved. The choice is theirs.