I’ve had several media appearances lately on marketing and advertising in virtual worlds, including writing a short piece in Marketing magazine on “Are virtual worlds an over-hyped waste of time for marketers?”, and a recent interview on an ABC TV program. The ABC TV segment was largely about billboard advertising, so I showed the TV crew billboards in Second Life, Habbo Hotels and Coke Studios for them to film for the program and to go along with my interview. The thrust of the TV segment was that you can’t escape advertising, even in Second Life. Another person they interviewed on the show said that it could backfire to advertise in virtual worlds, since people want to escape to somewhere different. However I think people implicitly understand that something they get for free has to be paid for somehow. As I’ve written before, some people will choose to pay to avoid advertisements. The TV crew managed to find a real-world version of a Telstra billboard I showed them in Second Life. While Telstra BigPond Managing Director Justin Milne gave the party line in his interview on the TV program, I doubt he was happy that I was wearing a free T-shirt with advertising from Deutsche Telekom as I guided the TV crew around Second Life.
However I’m hardly a major proponent of advertising in virtual worlds, and I think the TV program was starting from a misguided premise. Given that advertising – in the sense of annoying people with messages – is getting less useful wherever it’s done, it’s hardly any better in a virtual world. Marketing, in the broadest sense, is a completely different matter. It is far easier to engage people in meaningful ways in an interactive space. You can create experiences that people respond to, learn from their responses, change what you do in real and virtual worlds, and build both brand and relationships over time. That is just part of the power of being involved in virtual worlds.