Joseph Jaffe has a post from earlier this month that is worth a read: Who's responsible for SL's lack of reach? First, I recommend that you buy his new book Join The Conversation (and send me one - money's tight right now!) and subscribe to his podcast Jaffe Juice on iTunes. He has great, down-to-earth marketing advice and insight that you should not miss. (A link to his blog is to the right in my blogroll.) Some background on SL (Second Life): It's a virtual, 3-D world where users explore, build, socialize and participate in their own economy (that's marketing-speak from the website). When it came out, there were a rush of articles proclaiming this to be the next new world, much like The Lawnmower Man was to herald in the new virtual reality. However, it did not all work out that way. While Linden Labs (the creators of SL) claim that membership is still growing, there is widespread belief that it is actually stalled. The avatar controls are notoriously difficult. Most important to us, many users felt the paid marketing/advertising was either ubiquitous or simply over-the-top.
And these are not unfair criticisms. But Jaffe makes a case that as adventurers in the virtual world, we, the online marketers, are to blame for an unsatisfactory user experience. Sure, we cannot change the controls of SL, but we do have considerable power over the type of experience people have.
For example, was their experience integrated into the SL life or was it jarring? If you create an island where everything is a branded advertisement, do not expect visitors to return. Create some reason why the users would want to return to your branded area. If they buy something today, it's worth pennies. If you snuggle with that customer for life, it's worth millions.
[Coke is a good example (disclaimer: this campaign was designed by Jaffe's company, crayon). MTV is kind of in between with good intentions, but a few trip-ups along the way. You can find any number of bad examples just by poking around (start with H.R. Block, yawn).]
On a similar note, I was talking to a neighbor the other day and was mining him for information about ads integrated into new game systems. I've read several articles about the failure of ads to have any effect, often the type like pixelated billboards in racing games. Of course gamers block that out. But he was gave me two other examples - one I think is decent and another I think is great. He said on Guitar Hero 3 that some car company (Honda?) built a secret level where you preform a song on the bed of one of their trucks. He felt it was over-done with all of the ads for the car company in the background. The lesson, of course, is that if you over do it, the user feels cheapened. However, he also told me about a skateboarding game where, when you customized your board and equipment, you were given a short explanation of a certain part, sponsored by the company that produces it in the real world. This "ad" was subtle, didn't interrupt game flow, and actually enhanced the gaming experience.
Whether in SL or gaming or any experience where you communicate something to someone else, think of the interaction from their perspective. Would you find this ad jarring? Can this message be integrated to a smoother way? Could it even enhance the experience? Why is this so rarely (or so poorly) done? Is it simply because it's more difficult, or is it just a different mind-set than churning out the 30-second one-way advertisement?
Fear (to be left out) gets us into new venues like SL or video games. And fear makes us panic when our brands are not immediately embraced. Jaffe is right - if you're going to be an adventurer in this virtual world, it's going to take some balls (that's my paraphrase). Go for the gusto, but don't forget the experience.