With regular events and a staff of gregarious, frequently dancing Bunnies, Playboy's official Second Life presence, a tropical island club developed by Boston's Green Grotto Studios, is one of the few real world company sites boasting steady visitor traffic. (Direct SLURL teleport at this link.) And unless I missed a previous announcement, it can now claim another title: the first major company to link its brand with Second Life-only brands. In this case, Playboy-branded fashion sold on the official island, but created and promoted by SL designers who are an integral part of the label; among them, KO Designs, Alpha Male, Sharkture, and Simply Spoiled.
"Initially we approached retail by creating replica versions of real clothing that is sold at playboystore.com," Green Grotto's MSGiro Grosso tells me. "Over time we decided that we would make that a smaller portion of the retail experience and engage some of the top designers in SL to create exclusive SL-only Playboy collections as well as provide them with the opportunity to re-sell some of their existing clothing line and expand their brand." It's a bold move, considering how sensitive and protective corporations are with their labels and trademarks (even Linden Lab themselves)-- especially Playboy, one of the most well-known brands on the planet.
According to Grosso, however, it wasn't hard to convince executives in Hefner's empire to experiment.
"To be honest it wasn't that difficult," he says. "The initial concept behind retail was to utilize the virtual versions of real goods to drive sales of those goods online, but those sales weren't as high as expected." Instead, he argues, "it made perfect sense to create exclusive goods for the SL community independent of any real world goods." He was able to convince Playboy of this, he says, in a single meeting. "Although we are still mixing in real world goods you can generate a good amount of buzz and excitement around specific items that users cannot get anywhere else but our sim."
Most of their items sell for L$150-300 or so, a US dollar or two. "Honestly the sales strategy is 'How do we get one person to spend one dollar?'," says Grosso, "Which probably raises a few eyebrows, but I think sometimes we forget that we're dealing in a world of micropayments and that requires mass consumption to create significant revenue."
I should add a full disclosure and mention Playboy briefly advertised on this blog when it launched in Second Life early last year. However, the real bias is my own: I've long advocated the idea of real companies working with existing brands and entrepreneurs in Second Life to "re-imagine their brands merged to existing SL-based brands which have already proved themselves in a world of infinite possibility." I hope to see more of this collaboration, in fashion and beyond.