Friday, April 6, 2007

Can every product have a Second Life?

Our class was unleashed to discover a whole new world -- a world of Avatars and cyber realities. Yes, I had one of my first experiences in Second Life. The phenomenon attracts thousands of cyber people who can earn real U.S. dollars by creating commerce in Second Life. Though Second Life could bring out the entrepreneur in all of us, it has also created a whole new game plan for PR practitioners. Many real, established companies have created a presence in Second Life. One of which was Adidas. Adidas took the opportunity of Second Life's cheap land and building costs (it is cyberspace after all) to create a really modern, sleek looking building. To get attention in Second Life, a company must have a truly cutting edge look to it. To draw even more attention, Adidas has large glass (I'm assuming here) tubes that seem to be gravity-less. Orange-adorned people are enjoying the gravity-free space and floating all around.

Inside, Adidas slogans and shoes are placed in neat displays. There is also an area for Avatars to sit down and "try on" the shoes. Overall, I was impressed with the Adidas area and believed it to reinforce the cool 'cutting edge' image Adidas is known for. I think this Second Life presence could definitely add value to the Adidas image. They are also showing people they are 'tech savy' which could also increase their credibility when they release the 'next best athletic shoe.' Also, because Avatars can dress themselves, the idea of an Adidas store in Second Life is appropriate. The one problem was, I was the only Avator in there. It could have just been a bad shopping time, but with so many active Second Life participants, I was a bit shocked I was the only in the store.

Although the building was cutting edge, Adidas definitely should staff at least one company representative to welcome guests and help when needed. I could have definitely used the help! With such a new idea like Second Life, companies need to keep in mind that newcomers may need assistance to really interact with their product. For example, I didn't really know how to sit down, or how to really try on a shoe. This could be really frustrating for more involved Second Life participants. If there had been someone to greet me, and give me instructions on how to take out a shoe or to sit down, my experience would have been more meaningful. In a new environment like this that is also very technical, companies cannot assume every participant is experienced enough to figure out how to access the product.

Another potential problem an athletic store may suffer is, these shoes are not exactly as fashionable as a pair of Steve Maddens. People buy athletic shoes for the brand and image, but comfort and usefulness is also a huge consideration for many. Because Avatars can't actually experience the comfort of the shoe, I am not sure how useful this campaign will be for information gathering. The only information I can think of that Adidas would be able to mine out of SL participants is the overall look of the shoe. If Adidas did have possible new designs and colors in their SL store, they could see which ones were the most popular, which could help identify which shoes would be the most popular in real life. I make this distinction between Second Life and real life because second life is NOT real life. People may choose different apparel for their Avatar than they would for their own body. During my interactions with Second Life, I saw mostly thin, attractive people that did not reflect the overall population in real life. People may choose for their Avatars to have a different body type than themselves, and thus have different clothing needs for their cyber selves. This may mean product placement in Second Life is more hype than substance.

Keeping the idea in mind that Second Life is not real life, I would caution PR practitioner from using a SL campaign to measure a product's popularity. Even if every person in Second Life reflected exactly what the real person would buy in real life, the population of SL users probably does not reflect the overall population of real life, meaning not all types of shoppers have a SL account. Until SL becomes more universal, I would not use SL for product tasting.

However, just like viral marketing techniques, I believe Second Life is a great place for branding and image enhancing campaigns. Just having a presence in Second Life shows Avatars these brands really are tech savy. And, as I said before, the cheap cost for land and materials allows companies to create the best environments imaginable. And, if company representatives could be present to interact with Avatars, SL could be a relatively cheap venue to interact with potential customers.

Besides having company representatives within the Adidas store, I would also have a representative at the Second Life welcome area to pass out fliers to newly-created Avatars. This person should be completely adorned in Adidas. Each Avatar should be given a coupon for a discount within the store. This alerts people about the company's presence in the cyber world from the get-go. I would also create another environment where athletic clothes is necessary, like creating a SL sporting event/competitions.

With the rise of a cyber-based Second Life, I will really be interested in how companies choose to promote their products and interact with the Avatars. And, most importantly, I'll be interested to see if Second Life interest translates into real life sales.

1 comment:

Brett Atwood said...

Some great observations here. I noticed that the store was empty when I was there, too. I like your idea about extending the campaign to other areas beyond the store's specific virtual location.