Selling Online, Literally

Consumed: Selling to Avatars

Inhabited by the alter egos of a few hundred thousand users, Second Life is not the most popular of these online habitats, but lately it has been attracting — yes — marketers. Toyota, Starwood Hotels and a variety of music and book companies have begun branding efforts in Second Life; the Virginia politician Mark Warner even gave an interview there recently. Longtime users like Gareth Lancaster have been expecting this. What’s not as clear is how well the new arrivals understand that there are already plenty of successful brands in this other world. Brands like Gareth Lancaster’s.

[…] Reuben Steiger, C.E.O. of a virtual-world-focused marketing firm called Millions of Us (which has worked with Toyota, among others), points out that for real-world brands the critical question is how to avoid tension with the “indigenous culture” of Second Life entrepreneurs. Just because clothing, for example, is a popular in-world spending category doesn’t mean that avatars are clamoring for real-world logos. Many virtual consumers already have favorites among the Second Life’s established clothing creators, like Fallingwater Cellardoor and Pixel Dolls. Lancaster compares the situation with a company doing business in China for the first time and belatedly realizing that the place is already teeming with companies that know the market inside out. The newcomers may see themselves as pros, Lancaster observes, but “what a lot of real-life companies don’t realize is that they’re going to have to compete against a completely different marketplace, which is basically the residents of Second Life.”