Ahead of tomorrow's Virtual Thirst finale, I thought I would write a different kind of post...which isn't directly in favor or against Second Life per se; nor is an endorsement for or against Virtual Worlds; but rather an analogy using SL as a metaphor for change and emerging media and juxtaposing it against the mainstream marketing mentality.
So here are my top 10 reasons why some (not all) marketers either don't get Second Life or don't want to get it.
1. All brands are islands (as opposed to: no man is an Island) - everybody got all tizzied up about building huge edifices of grandeur (brandeur? hmmm), which became ghost towns...but no one ever stopped to ask WHY? The why is simple. For the first time brands are finding out that they are unwelcome guests to the party of life. In Second Life, they start out as Islands and need to figure out ways of building bridges between themselves and their communities. Companies - like crayon - recommended brands NOT to build Islands...but maybe, that was the wrong advice. Building an Island was exactly the way to show marketers how uncool they really are. It's a cathartic and mandatory exorcism of arrogance and isolationist mentality.
2. Reach envy - Second Life or any emerging media/platform is not and should not be looked at as a reach play. If anything, it represents qualitative reach as its "residents" are comprised of influencers, innovators and early adopters. Marketers and their mainstream agencies struggle to focus on "small" versus "big" when it comes to being all things to all people and inevitably ending up as nothing to nobody. It's hard to evaluate a new marketing opportunity using old marketing metrics and yardsticks. The same applies to demographics....which are challenging when bald men are hot babes (see number 8)
3. Your brand is not my friend - Friendship is earned; conversation is permission-based...I could go on. Bottom line is that brands that just show up (often as party-crashers) to someone else's party had better be the life of the party or they will be tossed out on their asses. Without taking the time to listen and learn; to partner with the "locals", brands become nothing more than clumsy buffoons. Working with your customers as partners is quickly becoming a mandatory in this day and age...
4. Marketing as a contact sport - What happens in Second Life....happens in REAL TIME. We're not talking about LIVE + 7 ratings here...reactions are instantaneous, unfiltered and 1000% honest and authentic. This is essentially part 2 of the Emperor without his clothes (see all brands are Islands) where marketers cannot run and cannot hide and if they do, flying genitalia will surely out them. Second Life is a true mash-up of the focus group and launch initiatives...and the fireworks that come out of the event are often community-generated, as opposed to marketer controlled.
5. Control is not an option - Second Life gives us a glimpse into a future where propaganda and programming are not at the discretion of the marketer anymore. The fork in the road clearly gives only two options: deal with it or be consumed and destroyed by it.
6. The next big thing obsession - It's borderline delusional and incredibly lemming-like to rush in and rush out based on whatever it's the favor of the moment. I'm struck by how influenced marketers are by the mainstream media that plays puppet-master in terms of advocating when the water is too cold or too hot to enter. This, coupled with poor leadership from many agencies, AND a constant unsettled desire to conquest "the next big thing" makes for a mess. Second Life was the Prom Queen that developed bad acne and now is being discarded and forgotten in favor of the next hottie? Come now.
7. Firewall blockage - The fact remains...most marketers (and journalists) have never set foot in Second Life, but dare to judge it or pass judgment on it based on hear-say and broken telephones. This, coupled with the fact that EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO, they are prevented (discouraged?) from trying before they buy by a rigid, ancient and out of date corporate infrastructure that frowns on change (see control is not an option) Marketers need to be living change (first hand) and putting pressure on those around them to do likewise.
8. Schizophrenia rules OK or is it KO? Hypocrisy seems to come bundled with being in marketing today. On one hand we frown on Second Life, but in the pharmaceutical industry for example, we go bananas with talking bees, luminous butterflies and other colorful personified germs that would find a really comfortable home in a Virtual World. As marketers, we buy millions of dollars of television advertising, but when we get home we TiVo (zap) every single spot. We refer to Second Life as a fantasy existence, but in reality isn't our regular status quo more reminiscent of a fairy tale i.e. hoping for that happily ever after ending, but refusing to exchange our wooden sword for something DIFFERENT as we go out to battle the fire-breathing dragon of change? In Second Life, men are women, brands are bands, women are hot, boys are men and the list goes on. Deal with the dichotomy people.
9. Rabbit holes are not great for people not called Alice - I wonder how Alice in Wonderland would have read if Alice had chosen to conduct several rounds of primary research, focus groups, mined piles of syndicated data and waited for critical mass before plunging into the unknown. Second Life is a panacea for creativity and innovation and it is the rabbit hole that takes us into the real opportunity...virtual worlds and how THEY will transform the way we EXPERIENCE brands and interact with them and of course, each other. Risk and experimentation are not mutually exclusive; insights and learnings are not inputs, but outcomes of this process.
10. One night stands are great if you're a frat boy - Oh I'm sorry, I thought you wanted customers for life; I was misinformed that in fact you just want people to BUY NOW on command. Second Life is a proving ground for commitment and tenure. Tomorrow we conclude the Virtual Thirst program, which technically has been 7 months - not in the making (and from a planning process, over a year) - but in fact, in the doing. And after tomorrow, Virtual Thirst as an idea; an execution; and a distributed platform for experiencing the Coke Side of Life will live on...forever....in world, on line and through the magic juice of Google. The real question is whether you have the stomach, stamina, effort, energy and inclination to be in it to win it and to fight off laziness and lethargy that comes with trying get rich quick through carpet bombing your audience into silent submission.
Look in the mirror. Embrace that dumpy reflection (both yours and your brands) and then log-in-world and become a pioneer of the future. It's way cooler than that miserable reflection staring back at you.
- John Wall weighs in with his take on Second Life
- Adweek picks up this piece, but just to be clear...Firewalls preventing marketers and journalist from entering SL and passing poor or misinformed judgment without first experiencing SL are not one and the same
- Ad Age picks up the story too (You have to admire Web 2.0 boosters for their super-hero-like ability to miss the point...)