Jul 15, 2008

Entertainment - Second life - A fad?

As much of the virtual world makes space for non-geeks and businesses, one of the ‘early symbols’, Second Life (SL) is still less understood and under-experienced in India.Just three out of 30 people we researched had ever spent time on SL, although the awareness was 75%. Today, SL is home to half a million people and everyone from Duran Duran, IBM and ‘Amul’ has funded real estate here. The SL currency of Linden dollars is freely convertible to USD, and many Americans have quit their jobs to make money in the SL economy. However, this virtual kingdom can be quite daunting to the average Indian. In order to enter the virtual world of SL, one has to choose a name, an avatar and download software from the SL website. Joining SL requires no investment. On entering SL, you can chat with other SL residents, visit islands, museums or just go dancing at a disco. Residents purchase land, products, services and pay for them by converting real dollars to Linden dollars. The exchange rate is around L$266 to $1 and is tracked on SL’s exchange Lindex. SL offers a lot for brands - video ads, promotions, virtual stores, hoardings, create buzz, product launches and more. Most real world marketing and branding can be replicated on SL. India in SL has regions that companies or enthusiasts have bought. Complete with palace domes, lehengas, Bollywood posters and sitar strains, the experience is quite Indian. Events such as weddings and Bollywood nights are common with many Indian regions boasting of over 500 fans. While SL is well known, many myths still exist.• SL is the biggest virtual world — It’s not. World of Warcraft, with 8.5 million subscribers, is the biggest global MMOG. Habbo Hotel, the Finland based ‘social game’ has about 7.5 million users.• Nobody visits SL marketing sites — While user-generated content generates more interest, traffic to the top brand sites compares well with other forms of Internet advertising.• Corporate sites are susceptible to protests and sabotage — Is the real world any safe(r)? Many of the sabotage stories are often blown out of proportion.• It’s mostly a sex haven — Just 18% of SL has mature content. Explicit sexual activity is a subset. Net net, it’s safe for brands. In the ultimate analysis, SL is just one of the virtual worlds and not the definitive world. Marketing can have interesting, but niche possibilities for some brands. To the best of my knowledge, Amul is probably the first large Indian company to establish its presence on SL; Amity, the first Indian virtual university; CRY opened an office in SL in February this year. It’s still early days. Maybe we need a virtual space, with an epicentre around Bollywood or cricket for better connect with the Indian consumer. We need wild experimentation with ideas and business models and better broadband and PC connectivity. We need patience and the desire to connect to digital natives and influencers who will spread the brand message among off-line consumers. Else, SL is just a groovy little virtual hole to while away a few hours.(The writer is senior VP, Mudra Marketing Services, & head of strategy, Tribal DDB)

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