I recently read three cutting critiques of marketing and advertising in Second Life. The first is by Rebecca Lieb (found via Adam): Inhabitants of virtual worlds don't have real-world needs. To get very far in Second Life, you do need money (in the form of Linden dollars) to buy goods, services, and property. No small quantity of the virtual currency is spent on goods and services related to virtual sex. Way-far-out-there virtual sex, and no small number of sex businesses (one of which recently changed hands for $50,000) often seem like the primary purpose of Second Life. As ClickZ columnist Ian Schafer told the "Los Angeles Times," "One of the most frequently purchased items in Second Life is genitalia."
Ms. Lieb refers to an LA Times article, discussing some of the abandoned marketing projects littering the virtual world:
But the sites of many of the companies remaining in Second Life are empty. During a recent in-world visit, Best Buy Co.'s Geek Squad Island was devoid of visitors and the virtual staff that was supposed to be online.
The schedule of events on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s site was blank, and the green landscape of Dell Island was deserted. Signs posted on the window of the empty American Apparel store said it had closed up shop.
Frank Rose has written the most well-researched and, thus, incisive of these pieces for Wired, found via the Next Net. This quote from NBA Commissioner David Stern is staggering:
The site's NBA channel, launched in February, has already garnered some 14,000 subscribers; users have posted more than 60,000 NBA videos, which have been viewed 23 million times. But over at Second Life, where an elaborate NBA island went up in May, the action has been a bit slower. "I think we've had 1,200 visitors," Stern reports. "People tell us that's very, very good. But I can't say we have very precise expectations. We just want to be there."
The article later suggests that such a project might have cost $500,000. So that's, what, about $416 per visitor? Sweet. There's so much to like in this article--Rose rightfully pokes some holes in Joseph Jaffe's spin on empty corporate installations.
A couple of other surprising facts from Rose's article:
"Linden Lab's servers can handle a maximum of only 70 avatars at a time." I gather this refers to each island, or region inside the game. "A company can stage an in-world speaking event for as little as $10,000". This is in the context of the cleverly-named Electric Sheep Company, a prominent, uh, virtual world presence builder. I think that's a bit misleading, as you can run an event for a fraction of that cost if you do it yourself. "Only about 1 million [users[ had logged on in the previous 30 days (the standard measure of Internet traffic), and barely a third of that total had bothered to drop by in the previous week. Most of those who did were from Europe or Asia, leaving a little more than 100,000 Americans per week to be targeted by US marketers." Pick Your Spots Regular readers know how I feel about marketing in Second Life. There's a time and a place for it, but it's either already past or not here yet.
I say the opportunity has already past because the so-called 'first movers' got a lot of media attention from their Second Life launches. They deserve credit for taking a chance. They also probably spent a lot less money, because they were ahead of the curve.
That attention is mostly exhausted these days, so now marketers might as well wait until SL crosses the mighty chasm and enjoys some mainstream success and bigger visitor numbers. Until then, the return on investment isn't there for 95 out of 100 organizations.
Who are those other five companies? Obviously the sex industry would be a natural fit. Also, non-profits who can engage with the community on the cheap and raise funds for meaningful, real-world projects. Finally, there's probably a spot for the right technology initiative. But in all cases you're really got to pick your spots.