Second Life offers marketing professionals a second chance

You're not going to like this, but you must grow to love it. I speak of Second Life's slow ascension as the new "It" destination for marketers. If you haven't heard of it yet, you still have plenty of time to slowly ponder its relevance and let others seize the opportunity. Or you can act now.

You're not going to like this, but you must grow to love it. I speak of Second Life's slow ascension as the new "It" destination for marketers. If you haven't heard of it yet, you still have plenty of time to slowly ponder its relevance and let others seize the opportunity. Or you can act now.

Second Life is essentially a wholly functioning virtual world where humans can - and will - create digital representations of themselves, which then seek clothing, leisure, luxury goods, status, and friends. It's like college all over again.

Much like college, it is becoming a big business, as users exchange US dollars for Linden money to purchase digital goods very much like real-life wares. The community currently boasts 352,825 members, who are both earning and spending money at a compelling clip. Business Week reported that, in January alone, people spent $5 million in Second Life. And marketers of all kinds are lining up to get a piece of that action. Four wildly divergent entities - American Apparel, the American Cancer Society, Major League Baseball, and LEGO - have made inroads in Second Life.

There are also burgeoning Second Life-devoted companies, like Electric Sheep Company (ESC) - which worked with MLB and LEGO - that are shepherding brands through the environment.

On its face, it is too easy to ridicule the phenomenon. "You don't need a computer to eat an ice cream cone or have a game of chess with a friend!" or "Our products are physical, not digital."

Of course, when Amazon.com launched, no one had any difficulties purchasing books at brick-and- mortar stores. Outside of the early adopters on the burgeoning Web, no one knew they needed an online equivalent of the local bookshop. Second Life, like other online properties, makes it easy for people to find what they want.

As T. Sibley Verbeck, ESC founder, told PRWeek in an e-mail, "It offers a platform that totally blurs the line between [ads] and introducing new products. Companies can offer, even give away, virtual products that create every bit [the] brand connection real products do, but at no marginal cost of production."

While it's all too easy to dismiss any new development online as "something for the kids" or "something for the younger staff to deal with," I make this guarded prediction: Second Life will likely be more important to marketers than blogs.

In the Web world, all of those software platforms are just different conduits for communication. As more digital consumers - often in that demo- and psychographic sweet spot - spend hours in Second Life, they end up in a vacuum that effectively closes out other communications: blogs, podcasts, and news Web sites. If they're in Second Life and you're not, they're not listening to you. If you never got on the blog train, here's your second chance.

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