For the last few months, online game/virtual world Second Life has been a
front-line of sorts for brands experimenting with social networking, engagement and interactivity. More than other games, Second Life is well-suited to brands
because it mixes a social environment, a creative aspect, and a commerce aspect. The SL world is entirely built by its members,
and it gives you tools to create just about anything within it, from
clothes to jewelry to buildings to airplanes. The cool part is you actually own a virtual copyright to the virtual things you design. This means you can buy and sell and trade stuff within Second Life. To facilitate this, SL has its own currency which can be acquired, used to buy things or real estate, and even exchanged into real money and withdrawn from the game. So I could make a cool t-shirt design, create some virtual t-shirts, sell them for other characters to wear, and make actual money doing it. There are over 800,000 players around the world now, and a thriving mini-economy with over US $350,000 worth of transactions happen in the game every day. There's a good article in the Economist this week about the growing SL phenomenon.
Several high profile brands like Toyota, American Apparel, the BBC, Wells Fargo, Telus, Starwood hotels and Adidas have set up some kind of space in the game. In some cases, your character (called an avatar) in the game can buy virtual products from the brand and wear/use them in the game, in other cases the brands have just created a place to explore.
There is some debate about whether this is a good idea or not (PSFK likens it to the rush to create brand websites in the 1990s before anybody really knew what to do with the web) and it's true, some of the brand attempts have been ill-conceived and poorly executed, but I don't see how that's different from anything else most brands do. I'm all for experimentation, and learning by messing up a few times. I say kudos.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before an agency set up shop, and now Leo Burnett is the first agency to do so. It's not just for the sake of appearances, either: we're testing out a "virtual creative department," a meeting place for agency staff from around the world to exchange ideas and talk about creativity. Here's the press release (see, this is what press releases should be used for):
‘Second Life’ to be Second Home for Ad Group’s Staff
Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide Set up Learning Center in Virtual World
London, September 28, 2006: Today Leo Burnett Worldwide and its marketing-services partner, Arc Worldwide, announced they are in the final development stages of an “ideas hub” in Second Life, one of the Internet’s most populous virtual worlds. Soft launching this week and expected to be fully up and running in November 2006, the hub will be a virtual learning campus, created to further connect and grow the creative talent of the group’s global network. For a flat rendering of the hub, please visit http://tinyurl.com/nkjvz.
Conceived as a celebration of creativity, the yet to be named hub will immediately bring together in a virtual world nearly 2,400 creatives from Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide in 80+ countries.
Leo Burnett Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Mark Tutssel said, “Collective imagination will always be greater than individual creativity – and as today’s new technology now gives us untold possibilities for tapping into the creative brainpower around our network and beyond, the launch of our SL presence is all about our seizing with both hands the opportunity to learn, collaborate and create fresh ideas across the globe.”
Jim Thornton, executive creative director at Leo Burnett UK, emphasized the exploratory nature of the project. “Once we fully launch our presence in Second Life in November, we will be in the position to invite other SL residents to share in our creative experience. Our hub will be a source of inspiration and a place for like-minded individuals to connect and collaborate."
Burnett said it anticipates moving its Cannes Predictions Event to Second Life. Heretofore, the predictions party was set in the real world, and industry professionals gathered to vote on advertising likely to win at the Cannes Advertising Festival, which takes place in June each year. By taking the event to Second Life, Burnett is creating a global online contest that will unite the entire SL community in a celebration of the best that advertising and communications have to offer.
Burnett will also stage Wildfire: Ideas that Spread and Sell, a presentation that the agency and Contagious magazine gave in Cannes earlier thisyear and which has since been shown only to private audiences around the world. With the LB-Arc hub, the entire SL community will have the chance to learn how new-media marketing strategies are contributing to popular culture while driving businesses forward.
Leo Burnett’s UK office is designing the Burnett-Arc SL hub in association with social media firm Millions of Us, which builds dynamic projects for clients in virtual worlds.
I think it's a good idea, if only to get people around the company participating in social networking and seeing what it's all about - you can only learn so much by reading about it. And a day after we announced it, BBH also announced (subscription required) they're setting something up. We'll see if either one of these virtual places actually becomes used or useful, but I'm just glad to see some agencies trying new things. Let the games begin...