Brands increasingly discover their niche in virtual worlds

Second Life was once heralded as the key driver in virtual worlds and companies clamored to open bureaus and launch campaigns within the space. While some of Second's Life allure has faded since 2007, virtual worlds created for niche audiences are again finding success.

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Second Life was once heralded as the key driver in virtual worlds and companies clamored to open bureaus and launch campaigns within the space. While some of Second Life's allure has faded since 2007, virtual worlds created for niche audiences are again finding success.

Virtual Worlds Management (VWM), a media company that provides research about the virtual-world community, recently released a report, Virtual Worlds Management Youth Worlds List. It shows there are now 150 virtual worlds, either in development or that have gone live, aimed at youth alone. Brands like SpongeBob SquarePants, MTV, and Hello Kitty have created virtual worlds aimed at specific age groups, the report points out.

Why does it matter?

“[Virtual worlds are] still a great tool,” says Joseph Kingsbury, North America peer media lead for Text 100. “You are connected in a stronger way with a highly focused audience.”

By bringing consumers to virtual worlds, companies can track both engagement and traffic as a means of measurement. It's also a way for an established brand to target a niche demographic, adds Christopher Sherman, executive director of VWM. He points to McDonald's virtual world, www.happymeal.com, to reach its younger consumers, which it also tied into a recent Star Wars promotion.

Virtual worlds let consumers get inside of an environment and have a better grasp of an issue, says Kingsbury. For example, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers recently held a keynote speech in Second Life. Only 100 avatars attended, but the event provided a more authentic experience than a press conference, adds Kingsbury.

Five facts:

1. There are nearly 100 live virtual worlds aimed at those 18 or younger, with an additional 68 in concept, development, and testing phases, according to VWM.

2. On July 8, Google launched Lively, its own virtual world. The same day, TechCrunch reported that $345 million had been invested in virtual worlds for Q1 and Q2 2008.

3. Disney acquired Club Penguin, an interactive world with games and chat communities for kids, in 2007 for a reported $350m, with the potential for $350m more.

4. IBM created a virtual green data center in Second Life that allows users to check out the energy-efficient technologies that are included in IBM Project Green.

5. Warner Bros. paired a month-long virtual movie expo with the launch of the film 300 in Second Life, which included Q&As with the director, novelist, and actors.

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