Split Decision on Virtual Time Square

Marketers see the appeal of a Second Life version of New York, but not all clients are convinced.
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As advertising grows in Second Life, some marketing agencies are easily riding the wave while others are facing the challenges of radically changing new media.

Second Life, the massive multiplayer online world, allows users to log on through the Internet and create 3-D computer-generated identities. These avatars are then free to explore the world that San Francisco-based Linden Lab has synthetically created. Residents can buy land, spend in-world currency on goods or services from real-world firms such as

Reebok

(RBK)

,

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

, or even open their own businesses.

Wes Keltner, president and CEO of The Ad Option, announced on Thursday that his company will construct

Second Life's own Times Square for those businesses that wish to advertise in the virtual realm but won't develop their own homesteads. The first piece of the virtual New York is expected to open Dec. 30, in time for the ball to drop for the New Year.

One of two marketing agencies already on board with Keltner's virtual Times Square is nurun | ant farm interactive. The company, which has real-world locations in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia, is now attempting to help its clients open a new channel into Second Life.

"We are in the business of learning and leveraging new types of interactivity, and we view Second Life as a new dimension of interactivity and the Internet experience," says Michael Koziol, executive vice president with nurun | ant farm interactive. "We believe

Second Life has great long-term potential, even after the near-term excitement settles."

nurun | ant farm interactive's client roster includes

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

,

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

,

BellSouth's

(BLS)

Cingular Wireless, Louis Vuitton and L'Oreal Paris. Koziol is confident that most of these names will see their brands transitioned into Second Life.

"We are having a lot of discussions with our clients about Second Life and other new interactive concepts," Koziol says. "You can expect to see some of our clients in Second Life in the future."

For Koziol, The Ad Option's planned virtual Times Square is a perfect location for his agency to bring its clients, and he feels his company will be a great fit for the iconic destination. With a global interactive agency that has a New York office in Times Square already, it makes perfect sense to him.

In addition, the Second Life world offers "the opportunity to create new modes of advertising and brand-consumer experience within a brand new world," Koziol says. "Flying and teleporting can lead to new measures for brand connection."

David Tractenberg, president of Traction Public Relations, is also looking for the same kind of penetration for his clients in Second Life. However, he has a handful of clients that aren't sure they want to take the Second Life plunge quite just yet.

Traction's client list, which includes

THQ

(THQI)

, video-game maker Konami and D-Link, seems to be one that would be a perfect match for the virtual world.

"It's the popular demographic for us, so going into Second Life makes sense," Tractenberg says. "I'm fully aware of what can be done with this medium."

But Tractenberg acknowledges that some clients "are still unsure." Second Life "is not a tested medium," he explains. "It doesn't have tried and true numbers we can use. The metrics haven't been proven. Once we can prove it, then we can bring it to them and show that it's a good solution."

Tractenberg says that coming up with interesting, fresh content for his clients will ultimately require "an awful lot of work" from his company. "We're trying to come up with something that's compelling, new and dynamic," he says. "We're trying to figure out what's going to excite people."

Both agencies, though, face opposition from some long-time residents. Some of the early pioneers are fearful that the rush to move into Second Life will blur the line between real life and the virtual world. Already, users have picketed in front of real-world businesses that aren't contributing responsibly to the growth and culture of the virtual community. Many users are grumbling about companies that want to advertise in Second Life but can't be bothered to offer anything else to the public.

Koziol says that "everything finds its equilibrium, and the only way for a new media property like Second Life to exist as it does is to have the perfect equity between the media platform and the audience."

Tractenberg asserts the fact that the virtual world would not exist without the real world, and a balance between the two is a necessity.

"Second Life is based on real-world economies; the larger the amount of money moving in, the larger the amount of benefits," he says. "While current residents may be against big companies advertising, they'll benefit from the larger amount of money entering the economy, much like real life."

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.