Advertising in virtual worlds – Forget Billboards unless…

“We want to put up loads of massive billboards across Second Life. Then all the people will see the ads and we can hyperlink them back to the website”

Lesson number one when it comes to advertising in virtual worlds – just because it works in the real world doesn’t mean it’s going to work in virtual worlds. A prime example of this is billboards.

Why do billboards work in the real world?

They work because we look at billboards when there’s nothing else better to do. When we’re stuck in traffic. When we’re waiting for a bus/train/plane. And this works, because sometimes we want to be doing something else other than waiting. Billboard advertising sites are strategically selected where people will be spending dwell-time.

Why do billboards not work in virtual worlds?

  1. Because if you’re in a virtual world such as Second Life and you want something else to do, you do it. If residents wanted to hyperlink out to a website as a result of seeing advertising, they would already be surfing the net.
  2. Because people don’t wait around in Second Life. You’re never stuck in traffic. Sure, there’s places where people spend a lot of time in the same place (high dwell zones) but they are there typically for social interaction not loitering around to be marketed to via billboards.
  3. People don’t travel around Second Life slowly. There’s very little dwell time. You want to go somewhere? You teleport or you fly. You’re purposely going from A to B – no need to stop and read a billboard.

And here lies a key difference between real and virtual world advertising. Brand recognition vs brand recall.

Brand recognition occurs when you see a brand/product and you’re reminded of your need for it. You see the brand and recognise it – and it’s attributes.

Brand recall is different. This relates to having a requirement for a product or service in the first place and then remembering the name of the brand you associate with the requirement.

Typical direct response advertising with product attributes, calls to action and contact points (such as billboards) rely on stimulating brand recognition. Softer, more brand-led cross-channel advertising focusses on stimulating brand recall.

People use Second Life heavily for social reasons and are typically not in a ‘buy-mode’ – they have a specific purpose in mind when engaging in virtual worlds or they have no reason at all and just want to explore. Brand recognition advertising in this context does not work because it’s inappropriate for the audience.

This is why marketers (both client and agency-side) need to think more about their brand values and less about their specific real-world products.

There is ONE exception to the no-billboard rule in SL and is in fact lession number two – relevance.

Excluding gambling locations, two types of venues attract significantly higher levels of traffic than the norm – recreated places and music venues. These are both places where the residents have something in common, either a relationship with the place in question or the type of music. Placing billboards in these areas is the one place you can leverage long dwell-times and therefore exposures when the product/service being advertised is of relevance to the visitors, either because it’s related to the place or the same genre of music.
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