Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life

Freebies that Pay: Second Life and Slippcat Continued

So Anthony van Zyl, managing director of Slippcat hovered above the crowd today at the Virtual Worlds conference, up there with the adults like MTV and that branding engine and the guy from Habbo and his millions of teens, and it was all about how to make brands work in virtual worlds.

The tone was set by Greg Verdino from Crayon who commented that “last year I couldn’t get you to stop talking about Second Life and this year I suspect you won’t even mention them” before it veered off into an extended discussion of how to sell Pepsi to teens, how to sell music to teens, how to sell phones to teens, how to sell, well….you get the idea, although in fairness someone lobbed a question at them as the room was starting to clear, something along the lines of “yeah, but what about the adults” to which Wilson of replied “oh yeah, they’re there, only different” and the Slippcat CEO showed his street cred as an adult by admitting he played Atari when he was a kid, which is to say that having once been a kid who was marketable to, he’s now equally gullible as an adult, I suppose.

Kind of like moving from Hot Wheels up the ladder to a Harley, they’re still bikes, it’s just the brands are maybe bigger and certainly more expensive.
(More after the fold)

The Marketers Want Your Brain
The afternoon case study was called “Capturing their Brains and Eyeballs” because, well, it’s not JUST about capturing their eyeballs, you need their brains as well. And that was kind of the theme at the morning session as well, where a lot of talk was on measurement, and is virtual world advertising still valid, and is there a problem when some 40 year old is a 20 year old chick in a virtual world (they’re not usually, was the response, and even when they are it’s still an extension of their ‘aspirations’ and thus somehow indicative of brand preference, although I don’t know how a 20 year old virtual chick is going to buy L’Oreal for her 40 year old male controller).

And it all came down to engagement, and how engagement is different from what advertisers usually measure, which is eyeballs, and click-throughs, and impressions, and this is where the Slippcat guy comes in because he’s proposing you can have your cake and eat it too - with the Slippcat system, he envisions virtual worlds where EVERY object is clickable (and given away for free, by the way), and every click pays the clickee, and with every click those marketers get a report, and I start to picture a brand manager as being something like those business types in a black and white film, standing over a steampunk kind of globe which spits out long slips of paper with stock quotes on them, a constant endless stream of ticker tape, curling up at your feet and eventually reaching the ceiling.

Because the brand managers are trying to measure all this. And Slippcat is promising measurement - “give us your branded objects and we’ll embed them with menus, and links to Web sites, and SLRLs to your until-now-empty sims, and as the hordes click and get paid, that little ticker tape will keep spitting out reports, and we’ll all go home happy and wealthy, even those poor saps who did all the clicking because after all, you make peanuts on Google word search but people still throw it on their site, right?”

So now you have ticker tape to make the brand managers happy, and with all these systems and measures you can figure out not just how many times your item was clicked, but by whom, and how long they STOOD by your object, and whether they shared it with their friend, and which friends, and where did they go next.

And then you have the Habbo teens, and you get all that and more - because in addition to clicks, and proximity, and measures, and object propagation numbers you also get that cross-tabbed to research data about all those clicking, happy Habbo kids, like what their favorite phone is, or what shoes they wear, or when their birthdays are, all kinds of deep market research data cross-segmenting and slicing to your heart’s content.

So you’ve got your clicks and you’ve got your demographics, now all you need is “engagement”, and this is where everyone gets slightly befuddled, because you can’t entirely measure engagement by how long someone is in a place, or how much they click on something, or how many friends they give their branded object to - because, well, engagement is something INSIDE.

Thank goodness they’re working on that, because as Michael Wilson of pointed out, the neuroscientists have been looking at the issue and have discovered that there are BRAIN patterns that show when you’re engaged, so I’m assuming then that Emotiv and other systems will finally bring us the ultimate measure that all these marketers are lusting after, which is to TRULY read your brain to find out if their brand messages are making an impression.

Slippcat is Listening
Until we can run brain scans on users, Slippcat is promising to add a layer of insight on its ticker tape reports, because they’re offering “buzz reports” based on chat logs.

Hmmm. OK, so the way he described this is that Slippcat is giving out items for free (oh, and remembering the senior guy in the booth told me “the content developers in SL hate us”), with the ability to click those items and earn a few Linden dollars, and with the ability for those items to teleport you, teleport someone to you, send you off to a Web site, whatever….well, turns out those items will also know whether you LOOK at them, and how close you are to them, and also what you SAY around them. Because Slippcat is extracting “buzz words and phrases” from chat logs and passing that on to advertisers, all as part of its sincere effort to better marry brand messages to users, to never push stuff that people don’t want, and to properly calibrate advertising to your brain, or your engagement experience, or whatever it is they’re all trying to do, at some point I kind of got lost in all the buzzy talk and metric stuff and just sort of wondered “yeah, but none of this sounds like much FUN”.

MTV to the Rescue
Van Zyl played Atari as a kid. Which gave him the right to sit up there with Habbo and MTV, and which is also I guess the source of his click obsession, because what’s a clickable piece of furniture if it’s not a joystick button after all?

But the MTV gal was having none of this “free stuff, click me” model, and there were other sighs and rolling of eyes at the head table. Because as MTV said: “If it’s good stuff, people should want to PAY for it. Look…they PAY us for campaigns, and that’s the ultimate engagement”.

And even Greg from Crayon piped in, asking whether all this clickable, payable Slippcat nonsense didn’t “tarnish a brand”…in other words, is Nike really going to want to be handing out shoes that dole out a Linden or two, but I take it they didn’t read the Slippcat literature, because they’re not after Nike, apparently, they’re after Office Depot.

And it really all circles down to that. Because after all the measuring and clicking and segmenting and analyzing, everyone pretty much agreed that “if you’re going to do something, it had better be GOOD”, and that’s good news for the content creators of Second Life. Because as much as Anshe Chung has her 10L warehouse, and as much as Slippcat will end up being a sort of camping chair warehouse, there’s still something aspirational, there’s still something SPECIAL, about owning the best - and the best means authentic, and the best means hand crafted, and the best means developed with a deep knowledge of your target audience.

And Habbo seems to get that. And MTV seems to get that. About the only people who don’t quite get it are the Lindens, because if they “got it” they’d do a hell of a better job protecting content in their world so that brands knew that they were entering an environment where objects aren’t just prims, they’re items of aspiration, and the object economy is based on a lot more than whether you can “get free stuff” but how, and from whom, and the channels would be protected so that the brands can come in, if they choose, and work with in-world developers to create viral items and experiences which can engage people - their eyeballs AND their brains, I suppose.

But they opened the lid - the copybots set the scene for the Slippcats. All those newbies out there don’t know an Armidi from Havok4 from Windlight, all they want is some nice furniture and a new pair of jeans, and it’s such an uncontained flood - a ripped off, clickable world, that the “space” has been distorted for all those big brands and big bucks.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, maybe Second Life doesn’t need the big brands and their mega bucks and measuring sticks. But it is perhaps a sign of why Linden wasn’t at the big table this time, they were off in the little room participating in a discussion on “Why the 3D workspace is necessary for today’s information and knowledge management professional”, which either shows you that their focus has shifted into a different “space” or they didn’t play Atari as kids.


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