Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Case: Fictional and Proxy Brands: Sprunk

Although Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas does not feature any brands or advertising for real world products (they do pay tribute to a few commercial locations), the highly detailed and "intergrated" campaigns for fictional brands are a source of insights in how to market real products in games. One such brand is the soft drink Sprunk, which is most likely an apparent parody (tribute?) of Coca-Cola's Sprite (see the packshot below).

Advertising fictional brands could also be a "guerilla" tactic by companies who don't want to be too closely associated with controversial games such as GTA and yet want to capitalize on the large audiences some of these games enjoy. I would also love to see Sprunk in the real-life stores.

Here's how the fictional marketers of Sprunk advertise it in the San Andreas universe. It should be noted that, in the game, Sprunk functions mostly as a decoration and is not an active object one can acquire or use.

1. Radio commercials played on the car stereo. Download MP3 file (1.08Mb, :47) or read the spot's script (source) below:

Man: There’s a war going on in the streets
(sound of police sirens)
Man: It’s the war on thirst!
(sound of explosion)
Man: Sprunk is winning the war on thirst with the new grenade-shaped can.
Man 2: Eh yo, pull the pin and blow your thirst right off in that brand-new
taste explosion!
(sound of larger explosion)
Man: Now that’s the sound of freshness! Sprunk! Go AWOL from the cola wars with an energizing mix of lemon, lime, and ten times the caffeine and sugar.
Man 2: Plus mercury and benzene for that extra pop!
Man: Yo, it’ll bring you temperature right up! And the bubbles! Other beverages use carbon dioxide. Pssh! We use ether to kick up that fizz!
Thanks to all that mercury, you won’t remember -anything- that tasted so good. Now pick up a Sprunk thermonuclear six-pack, kill thirst and liven up the party! Toss your friends a Sprunk in the grenade-shaped can and enter the Sprunk sweepstakes, where you can win a real case of grenades! Sprunk! Blow your thirst right off in that brand-new taste explosion!
(sound of explosion)

2. Billboards placed throughout the game.

3. Vending machines, both outdoor and in-store.

4. In-game pubs.

5. On the shelves of in-game stores (6 faces, first and second shelves from the top).

6. Sprunk must either own or have an agreement with the major fast food chains in San Andreas since it's an exclusive drink both in Clunking Bell and Burger Shot.

Game-like 3D Environment for Modeling Outdoor Advertising Campaigns

Image: screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Alpha Mediaworks uses game-like virtual environments to model and demonstrate effectiveness of outdoor advertising campaigns. From their website: "Outdoor DRiVE PRO is a virtual environment that enables you to easily input planned outdoor advertising into a module and view the art as if in the driver’s seat. The program gives advertisers the ability to assess the impact of a design through a variety of simulated environments that judge billboard readability with distance milestones." Media Post writes: "[The program] allows users to drop up to six different ads in standard digital formats to simulate a campaign using outdoor spaces, including billboards and bus kiosks. Formats include 8 sheets, 30 sheets, bulletins, and shelters, all viewable in day and night settings. The interface, reminiscent of urban shoot-'em-up video game "Grand Theft Auto" (without the gore, of course), may also be useful for selling clients or senior execs on campaigns."

Here's a bit from my conversation with Behavior Insider: "Contextual and behavioral advertising would be much easier to do in the virtual world than it is here in the real world... Even if you place a billboard in the real world, it's really expensive to measure how many people see it and how many people act on it. In the virtual world, you can also place a billboard which would look exactly like it would here on Massachusetts Avenue here in Boston. But in the virtual world there are many more, much cheaper techniques to measure the exposure."

Cross-posted on Adverlab.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Second Life: Virtual Offices of Real Businesses

New World Notes wrote in December about Global Travel International, a real-world travel agency that set up an office in Second Life to help people plan their vacations and trips from within the game. It's not a real e-commerce establishement since the business doesn't process any sales in-game, but is more of a tool that lies somewhere between a personal office visit, a phone call and a chat room. The old SL office apparently had TV screens with footage of various destinations, but the company has recently moved and hasn't set up yet.

One way to sell vacation packages in SL would be to make in-game replicas of destinations. Below are the snapshots of the Hawaii and Amsterdam sims, created by players.

Second Life: U2 Concert Report

Here's a report from today's in-game concert by the U2 in SL band. The concept in brief: players stream a soundtrack into the world and create character animations for the performance itself. The major problem was the number of avatars the server could accept without the latency becoming too noticeable. Otherwise, a truly fantastic performance with every detail thoroughly worked out.

UPDATE: I wrote about it before, but for clarity am reiterating here: the U2 in SL is a fan-made performance and should be discussed as such.

The vending machine gave away free tickets.

Every self-respecting concert has a swag stand. All t-shirts and buttons were free.

Free snacks and drinks from the "official sponsors". The other stand "sold" beer (Sam Adams included). UPDATE: One of the players behind the band asked me to point out that there are no "official sponsors" behind the event. Quote: We have no sponsors official or otherwise. We do it all for free. We sell nothing. HOWEVER, to correct any misconceptions such as the one stated publicly in your blog, we are taking down the food and drink booths. They were merely provided to give a more "real world" concert setting. No copyright infringement was ever intended. Again, we sell nothing--no show, no food, no drinks, no souvenirs--all is offered for free. "

The entire show was controlled from this director's stand.

The concert gathered a crowd of about 50.

Besides the artists, the show also employed a significant number of staff and security to keep the fans off the stage (the stage was protected by an invisible wall just in case). The security also made sure the fans weren't wearing anything lag-inducing, such as fancy hair or body attachements. UPDATE: One of the players behind the band asked me to point out that "employed" is not a correct word. Quote: "In any event, no one is employed or gets any monetary gain from these endeavors--again, all for free."

The server was streaming the soundtrack of the U2's recent concert in Boston.

Each song seemed to have original animation scripts and light settings.

The band avatars are controlled by an elaborate set of animation scripts.

Bono talks about making poverty history.

After the show, the band departed into their band room near the stage...

...only to come out later and give out autographs.

A happy grouppie poses on the stage after the show.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Scratchpad: Virtual Goods as Real Content

Mark Wallace, "Touching Aimee's Panties", The Escapist, Issue 8

"For those who've never set foot in a virtual world it's hard to imagine why someone would pay cash for a sword or a skirt that's made of nothing but software. But what even most gamers don't realize is that the things they're buying and selling in online worlds aren't virtual at all.

You might not be able to hold Aimee's panties in your hand (as much as you might like to), but that's not the point. You're not buying them because you want to wear them in the real world. You're buying them because they add something to the character you're guiding through the online world. They add to the story that unfolds on your computer screen each time you log into Second Life. In that sense, they're no different from buying the latest issue of your favorite manga or taking yourself to the movies. When you buy a DVD you're not paying for a piece of plastic (which costs pennies to produce), you're paying for the content stored on it. And Aimee's skirts and stockings are content in much the same way. There's really nothing virtual about them."

Scratchpad: Reaching Gamers Through Web Sites

Enid Burns, "New Video Game Sites Compete for Readers, Ad Dollars", Clickz.com, Feb.24, 2006.

"Everyone's talking about in-game advertising as a channel to reach the elusive young male audience, but editorial sites that cover video games can help advertisers achieve the same objective. That's why a handful of such sites are readying to launch and compete for gamers, and ad dollars."

"Sites like IGN and GameSpot.com have enough traffic and users, 27 million unique users a month."

Scratchpad: Past Projections

Some data points from an old article in iQ Magazine: "Advertising's New Game", Michael Boland, Nov-Dec, 2003:

"The price of in-game product placements starts at about $50,000 and can exceed $500,000, which is small compared to the millions that companies spend for product placement in major movies."

"Revenue from in-game advertising for PC and console games (including product placement) will reach $975 million in 2005, according to Forrester Research estimates. Michael Oxman agrees. "It's an efficient media buy," he says, adding that the cost per 1,000 impressions is about $1.50 to $5; the comparative cost for television advertising is about $20 to $25."

Michael Oxman was "managing partner at JAM International Partners, which helps game publishers find ad partners."

Scratchpad: Habbo Hotel

Press release, July 11, 2005:

"Globally Habbo Hotel audience has reached 4 million unique browsers per month.

From an advertising perspective, Habbo concept offers one of the most innovative and cost-effective ways to communicate and interact with the teen demographic, build brand loyalty and modify consumer behaviour. Habbo Hotel turns traditional online marketing campaigns into live virtual marketing experiences. The viral marketing effect of these campaigns is multiplied by the fact that these take on a life of their own, outside the Habbo environment, as they flow into myriad fan sites and discussion forums. The companies that have already benefited of this immersive advertising capability of Habbo Hotel are i.e. Coca-Cola, Nike, L´Oreal, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Playstation to name a few."

Advertising In Games Forum

Advertising in Games Forum East, April 12, 2006, NYC, Metropolitan Pavilion.

Second Life: Connecting Two Worlds

Clickable Culture:
"Linden Lab have launched SLurl, a web application that gives the general public read/write access to an interactive overhead map of Second Life. Existing users of the virtual world can also use the map to "teleport" directly to an annotated location."

The map works a lot like the familiar Google Maps. It also opens the way to many new possibilities for enhanced advertising of SL goods on RL web. One thing we are going to see is RL web and search ads for in-game businesses.

Second Life: U2 Concert This Weekend

I have already written about U2 fans who play out their favorite band in the Second Life. The group is giving a free in-game concert today and tomorrow. Second Life time is the same as West Coast', so it makes 11 am PST today and 5 pm PST on Sunday.

Friday, February 24, 2006

News: Midway Structures In-Game Ad Sales

Zachary Rodgers, "Midway Taps Double Fusion to Represent In-Game Ads." Clickz.com, February 23, 2006

"Midway Games tapped Double Fusion to sell and serve dynamic ads in multiple games over the next several years. The only title definitely included under the deal is Stranglehold, slated for release in fall 2006.

Additionally, the company hired Atari veteran Sarah McIlroy to head its in-game advertising and promotional efforts. Whereas Double Fusion will represent dynamic ad inventory such as posters and 2D video placements in 3D games, McIlroy will court advertisers seeking deeper integration with the gameplay.

The Double Fusion agreement provides for dynamic, rotating ad placements in PC games -- the first time Midway has engaged in anything other than static, permanent ad units.

Many see a great opportunity in dynamically serving ads to players of console games, but until connected consoles see wider adoption and equipment manufacturers like Sony and Microsoft decide how to approach the market, PC-based games are bound to provide the most inventory."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

News: ESPN Sponsors Online Mode Of Fight Night 3

"Spam Alert: Fight Night 3 PSP Costs Privacy", Kotaku, Feb, 19, 2006
"Pay to Play Fight Night 3 Online: The Details", Kotaku, Feb, 19, 2006

EA's Fight Night Round 3 game for PSP requires players to register with their email addresses and allow ESPN to send marketing materials or pay $2 to access the game's online mode.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Second Life: Problems: Griefing

Hacking and griefing are some of potential problems that advertisers in virtual worlds should plan for. In October 2005, the entire Second Life grid was taken offline, overwhelmed by the load of self-replicating objects that have become known as Griefspawn (see article in The Escapist).

Griefing refers to players intentionally causing discomfort in other players and can be manifested in a variety of ways that range from verbal abuse to an assault by automated scripts that ruin the game experience or even crash the system. The results often are visually entertaining (at least to the griefer, if not the victim), and the scripts are fairly easy to acquire.

Second Life's Three Stages of Grief are:
(Note to the Lindens: the screengrabs were obtained in a controlled experiment and are not subject to abuse report.)

Trap incapacitates the attacked avatar (no movement or flying) whose only escape is to teleport to another sim.

Kill pushes avatar off with a splattering blood affect. Doesn't actually kill but is an annoyance. Often used in attacks against public events or clubs, pushing the public outside.

Orbit is the griefer's ultimate weapon. It throws the avatar up beyond the world's boundaries and into untextured space, in this case at the height of 8,126,796 meters. In the extreme cases, the orbit script also disables the teleport function and the player's only option is to restart the game.

Second Life, as I understand, actively polices the world and all abuse reports and subsequent actions are filed in the Police Blotter. Linden Lab punishes abusive players by warning, suspending, banning them from the game, or exiling them to a deserted corn field.

Image: Nimrod Yaffle for Clickable Culture

Second Life: Merchadising: Dwellget

Dwellget (located on the Taco sim) is a Second Life store with some of the most realistic layout and merchandising. There is a strong apparent reference to the real-world Target. Just as in real life, it is important to lay out your store in a way that enhances customer experience and maximizes profits. One added dimension to merchandising in SL is the issue of usability, since an SL store combines the visual metaphors of a RL brick store with the mechanics of online shopping. Here are some of the constraints that can inhibit the shopping experience:

1. I have yet to visit a SL store that provides a good list of the entire range of products for the task-oriented shopper. Home Depoz (pictures later) and some other stores have an interactive bulletin board that teleports customers to the departments of interest, but the customer still needs to go from one product display to another to get an at-a-glance overview of the product range. Dwellget uses signboards placed above the aisles, but the products are placed on shelves that face each other. One possible solution to the problem could be placing embedding product lists into the floor textures so that customers can fly over them to see what's available.

2. Many stores are laid out on two or more floors connected by flights of stairs, often placed near walls. Stairs in SL are such a pain - poor avatar movement abilities, ackward camera control - that some house builders avoid stairs altogether and replace them by flat boards.

3. Stacking up product displays saves footprint space and takes advantage of avatars' ability to fly, but when the goods are stacked all the way up to the ceiling, the avatar that flies up would often bump his head and the camera view would be thrown through the roof outside and require a manual adjustment.

4. There is no reason for having doors in SL stores since theft is technologically impossible anyway and the doors stay open 24/7 anyway. There's even less reason for a large store to have only one door. There is very little non-aesthetic excuse for having non-transparent walls or ceilings that mess up camera view either. Dwellget here has a non-transparent perimeter and only one door.

Scratchpad: Targeting the Avatar

Harvard Business Review is working on an article due June that considers the opportunities of advertising that targets the avatar instead of the player behind the computer. Highlights (verbatim):

-- The intensity of the experience makes an avatar "not a puppet but a projection" of some aspect of the creator’s self, says Philip Rosedale, the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, the company that produces Second Life.

-- Avatars can influence purchasing decisions or, at the very least, offer insights into their creators' tastes. Simply observing how inhabitants of a virtual world use a particular type of product or choose, say, their virtual vacation destinations can generate valuable information.

-- Companies may also be able to market directly to avatars in their virtual worlds, persuading them to, in effect, purchase real-world goods for their creators, just as those creators buy virtual-world paraphernalia for them.

-- Marketers may even discover ways to sell to avatars after they accompany their creators back to the real world.

Paul Hemp, Harvard Business Review Online, "The Avatar as Consumer".

Second Life: Trademark and IP Infringement

A few pointers from Csven to the discussion about SL residents using real-world trademarks:

-- Resident complains he (she?) was approached by a Linden employee and asked to remove cars modeled after Nissan and Toyota and sporting respective logos (SL Forums thread).

-- Linden Lab says any use of a real-life logo without permission is an IP infringement as is considered abuse under the terms of service (SL Forums post).

-- Clickable Culture: Second Life is rampant with intellectual-property infringements--it's just ignored (blog post).

The examples of residents using RL brands without (most likely) not having any legal right to do so abound and some of them are documented here. Some branded products (Coke from the vending machine) are given away for free, others (iPods at iPod store) are sold for money. There are two sides of the issue. On the one hand, these products and activities seem to be clear cases of IP infringement. On the other hand (as a recent C3 paper explains in detail), the companies abstain from twich reaction to every instance of illegal use / fan production as in some cases the benefit to the brand outweighs the cost of losing control.

Yet on the other (third?) hand, SL residents who market products under their own brand may view illegal exploitation of RL brand goodwill as unfair competition.

J.C. Penney to Open Virtual Store

J.C. Penney will construct a 15,000-square-foot physical manifestation of the virtual store at One Times Square on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, New York, in which shoppers can purchase the company's full range of merchandise at interactive kiosks. The store opens on March 3, 2006 and closes on March 26. Shoppers will be able to buy everything in the store at interactive kiosks, which will feature all of the 250,000 items available at the company's web site.

-- Business Week via PSFK

So now a real-life store will look more like a store in Second Life. See more on SL merchandising in the upcoming post.

Scratchpad: Clickable Culture, Shanth on Marketing in Virtual Worlds

Csven (thanks for the warm welcome in SL) points to the critique by Clickable Culture of a recent post by Shanth Ideas that offers tips to marketers eyeing virtual worlds. Highlights:

1. Few of the existing virtual worlds allow and even fewer encourage marketing activities by the real world brands.
2. Very few of these worlds are open-ended and integrate user-created context within the main game.
3. In-world brands exist in the context of the overarching megabrand of the host virtual world.
4. Blogging and reporting on in-world experiences is not (yet) big enough to make any significant difference.
5. The virtual world is not a contiguous space encompassing a variety of games.
6. Outside companies might find themselves competing with established in-world businesses for the same virtual market.
7. Just because an outside brand is established doesn't mean it will be more desirable in a user-created online world. It may be more viable for outside brands to co-opt in-world brands rather than try to compete directly.

(#6 and #7 are in the comments section)

Scratchpad: Data Points from Business Week Article

Business Week, Feb. 27, 2006, "Rated M For Mad Ave." A few data points and quotes:

Game: Activision's American Wasteland of the skateboarder Tony Hawk series. Brands: Staples Center, Jeep Wranglers, Grand Cherokees, and Liberties.

"Jeep learned that all players were shown the 3-D vehicles an average of 23 times in 20 minutes. And 96% of those who recalled seeing the Jeep felt the vehicles fit well in the game. Feedback even more welcome to Jeep: 51% of American Wasteland players, including some not yet driving, said they would recommend Jeep to a friend, and 65% would consider eventually buying one. "Gaming performs much better than TV" in turning brand awareness into an actual preference, says Bonita Stewart, DaimlerChrysler's (DCX ) director of interactive communications."

"Nielsen forecasts that ad spending on brand placement in games will balloon from $75 million last year to as much as $1 billion by 2010."

"This is a new world of interactivity that puts gaming on the same plane with advertisers as cable TV," says Tim Harris, who heads the gaming unit of media agency Starcom MediaVest Group."

"And far from rebelling against ads in their players, gamers seem to be telling advertisers they want to see more of the brands that help define who they are."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Scratchpad: Interview with Konami

Dave Edery interviews Michael McHalle, a senior producer at Konami, on ad intergration into Karaoke Revolution Party for Xbox. Highlights:
  • Ad sales are done by Massive, but Konami retains the approval rights for ad content.
  • Ads should be age-appropriate for the audience.
  • Ads should fit the general art style of the game.
  • Konami has a guide with screenshots of the game environment.
  • The process of planning where the ads will go and integrating the ad-serving technology into the game takes time that could've been spent on other work.
  • It would have been nice to store the streaming ads locally on the Xbox.

Second Life: Branded Clothing

The SL iPod store that sells costumes with the green background that will transform any avatar into a walking billboard.

The Pearbook store gives away branded t-shirts.

Coming next: Hooters, Corona, Budweiser.

Second Life: Coke Machine

This Coke machine is located in the Passions club, but many others can be found throughout the grid. It's functional in the sense that when activated, it produces cans of Coke, but despite the presence of life-like selection buttons, no other drinks are available. The cans are given away for free. Drinking Coke doesn't influence the character in any perceptable way (there are no character stats that play prominent roles in other games).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Second Life Media, Merchandizing: Pearbook Store

Found the store that sells Pearbook laptops mentioned earlier. The laptop does have a functionality allowing to send emails to the real-world addresses (much like the SL's internal IM system). The Pear brand is an apparent parody (or tribute) to Apple. Note the store design and free t-shirts (note to self: take pic of t-shirt).

In-game, you can also buy laptops copied after an actual Mac product; you can also find iPods, including the newest one with video capabilities. This iPod shuffle sells on SL Exchange for L$200 ($1.50) and comes pre-loaded with 6 songs.

Second Life: Objects of Virtual Desire

"This project explores immaterial production in a virtual world, and if and how this can be transferred into an economy of material production. We have collected a series of objects produced and owned by inhabitants in the online world Second Life and will sell physical reproductions of these objects via our web shop."

-- Objects of Virtual Desire

Second Life: Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island Moves to Active Worlds

Screenshot of Stagecoach Island viewed from the Active Worlds browser. Source: Cristiano Midnight on Second Life forum post.

Wells Fargo has quitely moved its Stagecoach Island - an in-game initiative they announced last September (covered by AdLab) - from Second Life to Active Worlds. Unlike Second Life, Active Worlds encourage thrid-party in its game and offer a rate card on their website. The current formats are a 3d banner and a banner ad on flying blimps.

Screenshot of the Stagecoach Island on Second Life. Source: wuvme Karuna on a Second Life forum post.

Second Life: BBC Newsnight

"As part of Newsnight's Geek Week, business correspondent Paul Mason and presenter Jeremy Paxman broadcast TV's first ever face-to-face studio session from inside the computer game Second Life." (BBC story). Below are the screenshots of the set. The set is located around Crameri, 251,5.

Second Life: U2 Concert

"We are long-time U2 fans who also belong to a 3D virtual world called “SECOND LIFE”. In that world we are a group of role-players who go by the name of “U2 in SL”. We have created avatar character likenesses of Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, and Adam Clayton. We believe we’re U2’s FIRST virtual tribute band!"
-- U2 in Second Life