Coke Opens VirtualThirst.com In Second Life

Diving into the virtual waters, Coca-Cola officially entered Second Life, issuing an invitation to avatars as well as the general public to submit ideas for a portable virtual vending machine.

The design competition invites people to submit designs to www.virtualthirst.com for a chance to win a grand prize of building and launching the ultimate vending machine with the help of 3-D design shop Millions of Us.

Design entries will be accepted through a variety of formats and submission methods, including submissions within Second Life, YouTube and MySpace.

Submission guidelines for each and contest rules appear on MySpace at www.myspace.com/virtualthirst, as well as on "crayonville Island" in Second Life. The entry deadline is May 25.

Coke's initiation into Second Life was spearheaded by marketing consultancy crayon, which devised the strategy for the soft drink marketer and helped it tap an advisory council made up of Second Life residents and designers which will select the winner of the competition.

The grand-prize winner will get to introduce the virtual vending machine at an in-world party; residents will also be able to buy the machine. The Virtual Thirst contest represents Coke's first big experiment within Second Life.

"Our goal is to enable individual creativity in pursuit of a 'vending' machine that can exist only in your wildest imagination," said Michael Donnelly, director, global interactive marketing, Coke.

Donnelly said the "Virtual Thirst" platform has a lot of legs--and is something that could be extended into offline media, as well as into portable media-games, wireless and other emerging platforms.

The concept could eventually tie in to or complement Coke's current campaign "The Coke Side of Life." He said the Second Life play is a learning experience.

"It isn't any kind of reach play, it's about learning about how to better market." And he also noted that since the relaunch of Coke.com, the brand is striving to reposition itself around self-expression and creativity.

Coke isn't the only brand dabbling in Second Life. Boutique agency Campfire established an ongoing presence and sophisticated set of experiences more than a year ago for GM's Pontiac brand.

Campfire came up with Pontiac's Motorati Island, where there are participating dealers, auto enthusiast groups, live sponsored concerts, racing events and more. The tie-in with SL was designed to promote the Solstice GXP sports car. Recently, Campfire teamed with Pontiac and Leo Burnett to offer a real-world Motorati experience at the New York Auto Show; big screens at the Show offered an in-world glimpse in real-time.

At Coke, Donnelly noted that the winning design could lead to futuristic concepts of what the brand's real-world machines will look like: "That is part of our strategy. How do we take our old world vending machines and make them relevant to our customers?"

Joe Jaffe, president, crayon, said Coke's approach in SL is understated. Coke held a press conference in-world to announce the competition on Monday. "It's just one event in-world--25 people attended, but it's a seed," Jaffe said. "Our advice was to start small and then build conversation around the small idea. That's the long tail of creativity."

Jaffe continued: "This is less about a Second Life project and more about being able to take the whole concept of thirst and position it as a thirst for meaning, knowledge, love, self-expression and a thirst for an experience."