Be Wary of Avatar-Based Marketing

Over the past six months, there's been a lot of excitement in marketing circles and the mainstream media about corporations coming to virtual worlds. The biggest splash was probably American Apparel opening a store in Second Life. Second Life, for the uniniated, is a virtual world in which everything--everything--is created by users. There are many exciting things going on in Second Life, and I expect that it is a sign of future times.

Here's an important fact: Second Life has about 350,000 residents. As I write this, all of 3260 are online. Now, it's the middle of the work day here in North America, so I'm sure that number will shoot up in the evening.

Still, consider this chart from an online game stats site. Second Life barely rates compared to the millions of, say, World of Warcraft users.

I think marketers are jumping on the Second Life bandwagon because:

It seems like the hip thing to do. They can easily conceive of how it works. There are no orcs or night elves wandering around.

My point is this: before launching your Second Life store, consider how many people you're going to reach inside the game. I'm sure American Apparel has enjoyed decent ROI because they made a big media splash. Are the second or third or seventeenth companies going to do the same?

I would be remiss in also not at least mentioning the particular cultural issues that you'll come up against marketing in any virtual world. They're like other countries, and need to be approached with the same level of research and careful exploration.