Avatar-based Marketing in Synthetic Worlds

Companies are just now starting to get their feet wet in the virtual world webspace, in places like Second Life or There, and it’s obvious because a discussion about how to market to people in synthetic worlds feels more like a discussion of philosophy or anthropology than it does business.

I found this panel to be quite fascinating largely because it posed more questions than answers. But while “fascinating” is an admirable trait, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an effective business model for marketing.

That’s the main problem. Marketers don’t really understand the culture of the virtual world, and since there are no web banners or web hits, the traditional ways of tracking a successful online campaign don’t work.

There’s also demographics. This is where the philosophy comes into play. When you exist and interact in a synthetic world, you are represented by your avatar. Your avatar can be a realistic digital version of you, or it can be completely fanciful. There’s debate about what exactly the relationship is between the real-world person and their web-based avatar. Is an avatar a truer expression of the individual? The anonymity of the web, the lack of real face to real face, can make people feel more comfortable and allows easier, genuine self expression. Or does an avatar transcend the real person and become its own unique entity, in some ways separate from its creator? According to Jack Hemp, a panelist and Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review, “there’s still a person behind it [the avatar].”

Hemp also stated that even before the internet, advertisers have marketed to avatars. In this case, the avatar is the consumer’s alter ego, the idealized self that is brought out due to whatever product is being sold.

When it comes to companies currently marketing in synthetic worlds, some are doing better than others. Media companies, like MTV, is a good example. The reason the failure rate can be so high is, again, the traditional rules of advertising do not work. You can’t erect a synthetic billboard on top of a synthetic building in a synthetic world. You can’t get Nielson ratings, or click-throughs, or (obviously) real products being moved.

Linda Zimmer from MarCom:Interactive, another panelist, stated that the synthetic world is not a “mass market.” You have to really know your target audience and go after them specifically, on the specific platform that the audience uses. The attraction to synthetic worlds is that you can forge deeper connections with people. That’s the secret, according to Zimmer: A brand must develop content that connects people to each other, rather than connecting a person back to the brand.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

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1 Response to “Avatar-based Marketing in Synthetic Worlds”



  1. 1 SXSW Interactive 2007 on Throwspace: » Meanwhile (Sunday)… Trackback on March 11, 2007 at 8:58 pm

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