HARRY POTTER AND THE AVATARS OF BUZZ
One marketer's case for viral advertising in the virtual world...
Last week, just as the media backlash against failed marketing in Second Life had seemingly reached a crescendo, an article from the Hollywood Reporter appeared which suggested an entirely different story. It cited the President of IMAX Film Entertainment, which promoted IMAX screenings of the latest Harry Potter movie in Second Life, and as he told it, doing so wasn't a gimmick, or an experiment with mixed results. No-- according to him, it was instrumental to the movie's success on the company's chain of giant screens:
"A huge proportion of our opening weekend tickets came from advance Internet purchases, and a large number of those people came from interacting on Second Life."
I was skeptical, for the company behind the SL-based promotion, This Second Marketing, was frankly one I hadn't heard of before. But somehow, in the space of a week, the firm managed (by the Reporter's account) 15,099 unique avatar engagements, the most for any single one-on-one SL campaign. (Unsurprisingly, dedicated SL-antagonist Valleywag was snarky, arguing that engaging 18 people an hour wasn't very impressive.)
All that in mind, I got in touch with Second Marketing's Joni Rich, to explain her campaign. Joni laid out an extensive case for Second Life marketing, one that was markedly different from that made by most other metaverse developers. It totally up-ends the assumptions of location-based marketing tracked by Tateru, and because it involves what some might call "camping the noobs", is bound to be controversial.
After the break, she talks about her "buzz agents", along with why she abandoned a successful career in real world marketing for the virtual kind, why other SL-based advertising has failed so far-- and where she thinks Second Life is going as a platform.
This Second Marketing
I first came to Second Life in April 2006, when there were about 150,000 Residents as I recall, with the intention of opening a virtual art gallery...not thinking I would change my professional line of business from brand marketing relationship builder and strategic partnerships consultant for the top tier of advertising and marketing agencies, to owning a virtual marketing and promotion agency specializing in Second Life.
But when I read about the brand marketing efforts that were going on there, I checked out the ones that were getting tremendous buzz in the media. They were usually a "Fill-in-Brand-Name-Here Island" and they were invariably desolate and totally devoid of activities and social opportunities. I recognized the tremendous potential of this new digital landscape for communications of all kinds, marketing as well as education and socializing and more and knew I would love to be a part of moving this new 3D web platform forward.
How they Marketed Harry Potter for IMAX
Branded Buzz Agents… traveled throughout the Second Life grid and engaged people in conversations by offering them free IMAX movie-related items that they can keep in their inventories and give to an unlimited number of their friends. IMAX Buzz Agents also handed out virtual tickets with a link to the IMAX site where 300 real life IMAX tickets, the total allotted for the promotion, were redeemed. We collected the names of all the avatars we had conversations with and gave IMAX promotional items to. We asked each on if they would like us to contact them in the future regarding IMAX releases and not one person said No.
We have now created a database of Second Life residents that we will be able to continue our conversations with and deliver great virtual promotional "swag" for. We will be creating a Second Life group dedicated to building community about Movies and particularly the IMAX movie experience. IMAX can learn from and provide value to these special group members.
Why they promoted the movie in the Lindens' Welcome Area, where advertising is generally banned
[W]e have a very special relationship with the Residents who are in charge of the area where newbies are sent first. They actually LIKE having us there because we talk with the people and give them something fun to do as soon as they get there. Most people don't have a clue how to search or go anywhere and we explain that they can teleport by double clicking the landmark in the promo folder.
[In many cases, these Agents send new users to the island of a floral company, another Second Marketing client.]
We only did three Buzz Agents from Friday night to Sunday morning with a total of just sixty Buzz Agent hours but were able to interact with 1654 unique avatars and OF THOSE, during that time, 925 over them went to visit the Flower Show! That is remarkable!
So you are correct that most commerce is not permitted in the Welcome areas, however our Buzz Teams and Managers are all people who volunteer and do a lot of support for newbies and the quality of our promotions and the rules we have in place make us more than welcome, while others will have a hard time getting permission, and probably won't, unless they are as involved as we are, and provide the level of professionalism and value of freebies that we do.
What they tell real world clients about engaging the community
We have certain rules that our clients must abide by in terms of providing value to the Residents in everything they do. For example, for CareerBuilder.com, we have them pump 500,000 Linden Dollars worth of SL jobs into the economy as their support to enter SL with their "Job ATMs" which we paid 50 venue owners real money to place on their sims where people can access them to find SL in-world jobs as well as link to CareerBuilder.com for a variety of employment services, right from the kiosk.
On Valleywag's criticism of the Harry Potter campaign, and failed marketing in SL
First, let me point out that the failures of the early Second Life marketing efforts were largely due to the fact that tech heads... were leading their clients into Second Life without understanding of even basic marketing principles and tactics. Most of the companies in the SL development business, as far as I know, are led by people with high tech backgrounds and very little marketing knowledge or experience.
As you know, there is tremendous media coverage about Second Life and what it represents to the future of the web and the digital world as we know it... If you are old enough to recall, in the early 1990s, people would by books to find out where the good websites were... no Google. People paid $3.99 per hour to chat on AOL. Brand marketers didn't understand why they needed a website if they sold soap or food but they started to realize they did.
In the early years, the web development was a function of the IT department and not the marketing department. Notice any similarity there?
But once the web became accessible and ubiquitous, the business world began to understand that the web is the ultimate way to communicate with your target audience. The entire advertising industry had a seismic shift which is still continuing today. The "30 Second Spot" which used to be the Holy Grail of advertising and get the lion's share of the brand's ad and marketing budget, is no longer the end-all be-all to reach and influence consumers. Add to that the level of engagement that consumers expect from marketers now, and you can start to see how a metaverse like Second Life opens new doors for brand marketing and communications.
The "pundit" who wrote this little blurb quite obviously knows little about marketing or how marketing in Second Life works. First, the HUGE advantage that SL offers is that a brand like IMAX can actually have a one-on-one CONVERSATION with individuals in the highly desirable resident population of Second Life. These 15,099 people didn't pass by a billboard, they engaged in a conversation about IMAX and the release of the latest Harry Potter movie in IMAX 3D and how fantastic the 3D finally is when you see it in IMAX. They accepted promotional items from these brand ambassadors and enjoyed using the free virtual items. This is a far more immersive brand experience than anything else I can think of happening on the web.
Another interesting fact to point out is that the structure of Second Life is such that Linden Lab is not at involved with the marketing programs that our clients or any other companies bring to Second Life. For the writer to imply that SL is somehow using this story for its own image is ridiculous. This story came about through IMAX and The Hollywood Reporter called me and had no communication at all, as far as I know, with Linden Lab except perhaps with the head of developer relations because I told her she could check with him to verify that this was the largest one-on-one outreach of its kind as far as he knew, which I had verified myself after the results were in.
Where she sees SL evolving in the future
Since I am banking on SL being an important part of my professional future, I naturally have concerns about certain aspects of the company and the metaverse. Tell you what I think I is going to happen...
Linden Lab is not trying to make this a proprietary platform, in fact, they are opening their source code and encouraging people to develop on what they have started. They are having their hands full keeping the grid stable and able to expand. They are not focused on making the interface more intuitive or easier to use. If they did that at this point, there would be larger issues with keeping the grid stable and growing. However, they have made it possible for any developer who wants to work on the interface, to do so.
We are in such an early stage, that most of the general public has not heard of Second Life. The well- informed public may have heard of Second Life, but are not sure what it is or have a total misconception of Second Life, believing it is a game. I think that there will never be another Second Life business structure, although there will be tons of metaverses of different sorts. I cannot imagine that a corporation which builds a metaverse for whatever purposes, is going to allow users to create whatever they want and run businesses on their metaverse.