Yme Bosma had a very powerful post about an article in the Harvard Business School on avatar based marketing within 3D online worlds. Highly recommended reading due to the high impact nature for marketing, branding and digital media in general. From my perspective we can witness the convergence of the following concepts and trends in digital media:
- Web 3.0 worlds like OpenCroquet and Second Life
- Augmented Reality/GeoWeb games like MOGI in Japan connecting the online/mobile worlds with the real world
- GeoWeb tools like Google Earth
These 3D virtual worlds connect with the thinking of Sherry Turkle in her book called Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. I strongly believe these 3D worlds will enhance the transformation of individuals and even organizations by taking the concept of ENGAGEMENT to the next level.
"Whom do your marketing efforts target? The flesh-and-blood Second Life members who gave their credit card numbers to register for the game—or their Second Life avatars residing in the virtual world? Sure, the real-world human controls the real-world wallet. The avatar, though, arguably represents a distinctly different “shadow” consumer, one able to influence its creator’s purchase of real-world products and conceivably make its own real-world purchases in the virtual world. At the least, it may offer insights into its creator’s hidden tastes.
Such questions aren’t academic. Second Life is just one of a growing number of three-dimensional virtual worlds, accessible via the Internet, in which users, through an avatar, are able to play games or simply interact socially with thousands of people simultaneously. By some estimates, more than 10 million people spend $10 to $15 a month to subscribe to online role-playing environments, with the number of subscribers doubling every year. Millions more enter free sites, some of them sponsored by companies as brand-building initiatives. Many users spend upward of 40 hours a week in these worlds. And as the technology improves over the next decade, virtual worlds may well eclipse film, TV, and non–role-playing computer games as a form of entertainment. That’s because, instead of watching someone else’s story unfold in front of them on a screen, users in these worlds create and live out their own stories.
Movies are even made in these worlds, using computer game technology, a form of filmmaking dubbed “machinima.” Avatars take on scripted roles, thus creating in these plays within plays characters that are two steps removed from their real-life creators. You might call them avatars’ avatars.
For starters, avatars are certainly useful subjects for market research. “Marketing depends on soliciting people’s dreams,” says Henry Jenkins, head of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. “And here those dreams are on overt display.” For instance, a company could track how inhabitants of a virtual world use or otherwise interact with a particular type of product, noting choices they make about product features, wardrobe mix, or even virtual vacation destinations."