Aug 4, 2008

Virtually, anything is possible

So who’s actually in ‘there’? A quick look at the Second Life map (powered by Google, notably) through a programme called ‘Slurl’ revealed some interesting facts: CNN has set up a news station to report on events in Second Life! Sun Microsystems has bought land for (seemingly, at the moment, 'just') advertising and Coca Cola launched a campaign (‘Virtual Thirst’) in 2007, through a viral You Tube format (of course!) to design vending machines to be used inside Second Life.
Coke set the online community the challenge of building a vending machine that could vend the ‘essence’ of Coke – the Coke experience (refreshment, joy, unity and experience). The contest challenged individuals to submit concepts for new world vending machines, an appliance that could vend virtual experiences. Coke assembled a virtual avatar board of advisors (metaphysical, real, people of course control these virtual characters) and worked with a marketing firm ‘Crayon’ and ‘Millions of Us’. Throughout the process, submissions were made through YouTube, MySpace and The winning concept ‘Lucky Puzzle Bottle’ by Ann Marie May (see 'You Tube' for the video) , was a concept that meant avatars had to ‘solve’ puzzle bottles in return for a coke experience ranging from ‘virtual snowball fights’ to ‘giant bubble rides’. The virtual contest was Coke’s first interaction with the virtual world – it was an opportunity for them to learn about virtual worlds. (Oh, and by the way, for anyone who enjoys Second Life it raised a huge amount of brand awareness for Coca Cola as well).
Coca Cola also (indirectly) sponsored a music concert in Second Life. The ‘early adopters’ of these new online worlds are there for extended periods of time – multiple hours. These companies, that are subconciously communicating their brand inside these virtual worlds, have an individual’s attention for a considerably longer amount of time than is possible in the real, fragmented, media world we are used to. Think, for how long does anyone really look at a billboard?
So what else, is it just about brand awareness? No. One London creative agency ‘Rivers Run Red’ has taken to creating ‘immersive workspaces’ online. Rivers Run Red (RRR) boasts these virtual opportunities to communicate with each other all around the globe cuts down on carbon footprint, air fares, and time. Moreover, clients can see their work in progress: through modelling avatars in the online space they can quickly see how designs are working out. So, it would seem reasonable to assume that their clients would be only the one’s on the leading edge of online and web technology (Google, Microsoft, Apple...?) Not so, it is Boots (No. 7); Penguin Publishing; and the charity Bernardos that show up in their online portfolio.

So is this all play, a fad or a trend?

At least one company, River Runs Red, has a multi-million pound (Sterling) turnover and seems to be getting a positive response from its clients.

So what about some 'big names'. People that would really know about whether this can work in big business. In his 'view from the Top' interview with the FT John Chambers (CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems) said ‘Collaboration is the next big step in terms of productivity’ ( Cisco has also been working on this since 2000.

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