Wired Confirms Second Life is More of a Time and Budget Suck Than Marketing Channel

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I’ve never gotten Second Life…. It has little appeal and is frankly boring to me. That said it seems enormously popular and I’ve had clients who’ve expressed interest in being there so I’ve spent some time checking it out.

Wired published a great piece today on the experience and experiments… Some highlights:

Then there’s the question of what people do when they get there. Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn’t much to do. That may explain why more than 85 percent of the avatars created have been abandoned. Linden’s in-world traffic tally, which factors in both the number of visitors and time spent, shows that the big draws for those who do return are free money and kinky sex. On a random day in June, the most popular location was Money Island (where Linden dollars, the official currency, are given away gratis), with a score of 136,000. Sexy Beach, one of several regions that offer virtual sex shops, dancing, and no-strings hookups, came in at 133,000. The Sears store on IBM’s Innovation Island had a traffic score of 281; Coke’s Virtual Thirst pavilion, a mere 27. And even when corporate destinations actually draw people, the PR can be less than ideal. Last winter, CNET’s in-world correspondent was conducting a live interview with Anshe Chung, an avatar said to have earned more than $1 million on virtual real estate deals, when Chung was assaulted by flying penises in a griefer attack.

Sounds like a place I want my brand to be interacting with the people…

Joseph Jaffe, the marketing consultant who advised Coke on its in-world presence, dismisses the notion that such efforts might not be worthwhile. “The learning is now,” Jaffe says. “You are a pioneer, and with that comes first-mover advantage” — that chestnut from the Web 1.0 boom. And the paltry numbers? “This is not about reach anymore. This is about connecting. It’s about establishing meaningful, impactful conversations. So when people ask, ‘Why Second Life?’ I ask ‘Why not?'”

Jaffe logs on to show off Coke’s Virtual Thirst pavilion, which was created by Millions of Us, a Bay Area company that does in-world builds. He’s a close match for his avatar, Divo Dapto, a trim little figure clad in roll-up jeans and a red-on-white Virtual Thirst T-shirt. “You never know who you’re going to meet,” Jaffe says as Dapto soars toward the Virtual Thirst pavilion.

The Coke build is expansive, elaborate, and of course empty. But Coca-Cola has a plan. It’s sponsoring a contest to create a Virtual Thirst vending machine that it hopes will become ubiquitous in Second Life, just as Coke machines are everywhere in real life. Jaffe professes to be overwhelmed by the number of entries, which he characterizes as “well north of 100.”

Suddenly, another avatar materializes. “Ah, there you go,” Jaffe exclaims. “Someone’s just arrived! I think she’s from Japan.” As he speaks, Dapto starts air-typing in the weird way that Second Life avatars do, trying to chat up the new Japanese girl. She looks around, then teleports someplace else.

You might wonder what Coke is doing in such a place. “It had a lot to do with hype,” admits Michael Donnelly.

Well north of a 100 entries? I can only imagine what the budget was and the cost per entry…. How’s the ROI on that spend?

“Companies say, ‘It’s an experiment’ — but what are they learning?” Tobaccowala asks. “Basically, they’re learning how to create an avatar and walk around in Second Life.” Which is fine if that’s what you want to do. Just don’t expect to sell a lot of Coke.

Exactly. People catch on quickly and don’t repeatedly seek out experiences to involve themselves with ads. Might I be bold enough to suggest that companies take the time to get it right in real life before moving on to virtual worlds…

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