Second Look At Second Life

The longer Linden Lab's Second Life sits in the media spotlight, the more likely it is to burst into flames. This month, the independent gaming press notes a brewing Second Life backlash, even as marketers and media companies like Scion, iVillage, Dell, IBM, Song BMG and others rush to join the virtual world.

I've already confessed my skepticism about Second Life's value to marketers, and it's puzzling that the marketing community that "wouldn't be caught dead" on somewhere like MySpace would be so enthusiastic about Second Life. The conventional wisdom about advertising against user-generated content is that UGC has a lot of viewership, but advertisers don't want to get caught with their brands next to bum fights, racism, child porn, dictator execution videos, or what have you.

Second Life provides the same--or worse--pitfalls, but with a tiny, tiny fraction of the audience offered by social media like MySpace and YouTube. I'm sure some blue-chip advertisers would be mortified if their ads turned up next to the racy party pics of a twenty-something on MySpace, but much more offensive things can happen in front of a brand name in the virtual world. Take CNET as an example. In December, when the publication interviewed controversial Second Life businesswoman Anshe Chung, their theater--bedecked with CNET branding--was attacked by griefers who bombarded Chung with flying, animated penises. Here's a link to the video on YouTube, for the curious.

CNET handled the event with admirable good humor, but it's doubtful that other brands would feel the same way. And just as it was in vogue last year to send reporters into Second Life to bring back tales of the wondrous virtual world, in 2007, editors will be looking for stories of the violent, the sordid, and the homicidal. Makes MySpace look pretty tame, no?

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