An online avatar is nothing but a representation of oneself in an online environment created so that the users can play the role of someone they wish to be or are inspired from. This basically allows users to live a second life online-a life which they have desired to lead. In this online world everything is created virtually by the avatars to replicate or even better the real world. There are acres of land, buildings and items which are sold and bought. There are even social groups and events taking place in this virtual world.
The avatar is the most conspicuous online manifestation of people’s desire to try out alternative identities or project some private aspect of them. This experience of living through an alternative self is the most powerful thought in the virtual world. These more than a million “residents” are potentially a dream marketing venue for the marketers which are waiting to be explored and targeted. Using the online world’s own currency ‘Linden Dollars’ which is available at the virtual ATM’s, which is convertible to “real” money, marketers are targeting these “residents”.
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But the question that is troubling the marketers is to whom will the marketing efforts target? Will it target the real life humans playing online avatar based games or will it target the avatars directly? As the real world human controls the real world wallet. But as has s are been seen the avatars represent a distinctly different consumer, one which is able to influence its creators purchase of real world products and also make it own real world purchases in the virtual world. A few examples of Selling to Avatars and in turn selling to Their Creators are: 1.
Coke Studios is a teen oriented virtual world run by Coca-Cola in which users avatars interact and accumulate points through primarily music related activities. These points are used to buy furniture and accessories for your own studios. 2. “Second Life” residents run businesses that sell virtual products and services priced in Linden Dollars which are convertible to real life currency on various internet exchanges. 3. Wells Fargo bank operates a virtual world called Stagecoach Island, designed to educate teens about money matters through games and social activities. Avatar based virtual games online are a big hit with the people.
Though often charged a monthly subscription to get the full experience of buying assets or selling virtual items that you have made, the operators or many of these virtual worlds recently have allowed people to join and explore these worlds for free. Though in most worlds avatars do not eat, sleep or use the bathroom. New emerging trends include being in serious relationships, adopting avatar children, to leading to real life marriages and even nasty disputes over property rights The Linden dollars earned while playing can then be exchanged for real world cash on various internet exchanges.
Some avatar entrepreneurs, most notably fashion designers and land speculators have been so successful that their creators have quit real life jobs to focus on their virtual world business. Linden Lab says that more than 3000 people earn real world money from their second life business averaging $20000 a year while a few even generate six figure incomes in real world dollars. The growing overlap of virtual worlds and the real world suggests opportunities for creative real world marketers.
There have been only a few instances of real world items being sold in the virtual world. In the Sims Online, McDonald’s installed virtual fast food kiosks, complete with automated employees working at the counter and able to serve up virtual burgers and fries to residents who made their selection from a clickable menu Levi’s have sold virtual jeans pricing them at a premium to the generic virtual jeans that avatars otherwise could purchase. While Nike sold virtual shoes that allowed wearers to run faster than other avatars.
Organizations like Kellogg’s have also sponsored branded events in virtual world whereas in a non commercial sponsorship the American Cancer Society staged its ‘Relay for Life’ event in the virtual world. Despite pitfalls like technology constraints and also strong resistance to real world advertisements still exists in the virtual world. The importance of realization that each virtual world has a different culture and a marketer should understand a virtual world before he can target the avatars and their creators is to be done.
There is also consumer concern regarding the privacy of the avatar data which poses serious challenges. But clearly this is a virtually unexplored marketing territory where a new set of consumers can be targeted. Finally, marketers should understand that as the realms of the real and the virtual worlds blur so does the need for newer strategizing emerges for being successful in the Virtual-World, the Second-Life of one and all.