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Businesses tap into virtual world of marketing

Reality escapists are now being met by marketers and sales people online. Players build lives, businesses and communities in a virtual 3D world. A true second life.
/ Source: CNBC

Businesses have found yet another way to pitch products. The marketing is virtual and appeals at a subliminal level, but the products you buy are real and the profits even more real.

The idea of Second Life, a 3-D world where residents can build their own digital lives, has caught on with the adventurous and tech-savvy crowd, but it's businesses who are reaping real rewards.

In the last few months alone, membership has swelled from 130,000 to 350,000, with more entering the 3-D world of Second Life. The idea is to be part of a vast digital continent that is built and owned by its residents.

“Right now they’re enjoying around 60,000 new members every month and we’re expecting those numbers to rise in the upcoming months. It’s highly probable that we’ll exit the year with a million people as residents of Second Life”, says David Fleck, Linden Lab’s VP of Marketing & Business Development.

And businesses are lining up, trying to gain access to the upwardly mobile second lifers.

“If we look at the basic requirement of accessing Second Life, you need a high-speed Internet connection and a powerful computer, that means they are probably trend leaders are opposed to trend followers and those of the kind of people we’d like to speak to”, said Raz Schionning, Director of Web Services for American Apparel.

American Apparel’s virtual store is a hit selling 3,000 3-D items. The company is making sure Second Lifers have access to their real world fashions.

“From the Second Life store you can click on any of our products that we sell through the Second Life store and you’ll be brought to our online store where you can buy the real-life equivalent product”, said Schionning.

The race to enter Second Life is also creating companies that facilitate entry into the virtual world.

“Not only do we build 3-D art but more importantly we do what we call experience design. So it’s a lot like creating a video game, putting on a television show and curating a museum”, says Sibley Verbeck, Electric Sheep Company CEO.

Electric Sheep has already provided virtual designs for universities, museums and toy companies in Second Life and that’s where major league baseball turned when it wanted to be a part of Second Life, with a virtual stadium for this year’s homerun derby. Second Life members bought tickets and watched as the event was streamed onto the stadium scoreboard. While only fifty people showed up, the outcome intrigued MLB.           

‘”We’ve got forty-five hours of primetime programming everyday where you don’t know the ending. Applying an incredibly slick feature like Second Life to it and letting fans help create the experience, I think that’s basically called hitting it out of the park”, says CEO of, Robert Bauman.

Verbek also sees exciting opportunities for media companies and their advertisers.

“Here you can bring that live experience into people’s living rooms and that has clear business value. It has clear business value for performers, for content developers, and also for advertisers and sponsors”, says Verbeck.

“Whether it’s an awareness campaign, whether it’s about generating bricks and mortar traffic in their actual store fronts, there’s all kinds of interesting activities that’s going to play out here as we see these companies exploring this space”, says Fleck.

As excited as and American Apparel are, they are being patient and vigilant about their foray into the virtual world.

“From our point of view with our fans, is to be long-term smart here, which I don’t overcharge, don’t overprice, don’t try to make it an economic issue right away, just get people enjoying it and see if they can give us the most precious commodity. Which, is not money, it’s time”, says’s CEO, Robert Bauman.

“I think it’s an experiment that’s proved quite interesting and there’s quite a future in it. What the future is exactly, I can’t say right now, but it has been worth doing”, says Schionning.

Electric Sheep says that “future” promises big things for Second Life. When more mainstream companies announce their entry into the growing virtual world this fall.