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April 4, 2008

Tim Leighton: Experiential has a place in the virtual world

If I had a Linden Dollar for every column inch that was generated by the marketing press on the subject of SecondLife over the past 12 months then I’d be virtually rich. But the fact that Facebook has now stolen its mantle of “most hyped online phenomenon” tells a story in itself: this is a fast-moving market that runs the risk of being defined more by novelty value than any inherent or lasting sense of marketing value. Yesterday’s SecondLife is today’s Facebook, which is tomorrow’s...?

But that doesn’t mean that SecondLife is dead; far from it. Brand owners have realised that the virtual world is one that they need to be part of – from BMW, Dell and IBM to Vodafone, Reebok and Sony Ericsson – and the substance of their presence is as varied as you might expect. Some have exploited the medium to its full effect, while others have merely put a stake in the ground. For all the reasons that we’re already familiar with in the real world, events and experiential marketing activities have the potential to extend brand presence in to brand engagement – and clearly that does translate in to the virtual world. Brands, including entertainment ikons like Radio 1, have successfully established event platforms in this world. And yes, avatars do show up to attend.

Bringing brands to life in a virtual world

So should experiential agencies get in there and make it happen for our clients? The answer is yes, of course. If it’s going to work for your audience demographic (and clearly this is where you have to start, otherwise you’re on a road to nowhere), then virtual events are a great way to bring a brand to life in ways which you previously could only have imagined.

Is there any possibility that virtual events could totally replace their real-world counterparts? Clearly not. But, as ever, the breakthrough insight in our fast-moving world is that new channels offer new possibilities to extend the reach of a brand, rather than becoming one-size-fits-all solutions. So virtual events and real-world events can compliment each other rather well, providing very different sorts of experiences.

The virtual world is exciting because it opens up so many radically creative possibilities to agencies and clients alike. So, as creative people, we’d be mad not to be suggesting those possibilities to our clients. I’m also excited by the possibility of inviting them to a rather swanky virtual office...

Tim Leighton is head of strategy at FITCHLive

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