Avatars Feel The Burn (Or Not) In Facebook Experiment

"Sorry about being the apparent cause of you sleeping with a pig," wrote CondeNet's Jane Grenier to me a few weeks ago on Facebook.

It's a strange communication between two people who've never actually met each other, but Jane, along with a number of other pigs -- guinea pigs, that is -- joined me in creating alter egos for Burn, a Coke energy drink available in Europe that launched a Facebook app late last month offering us an alternative life. While I, and probably Jane, sat at our keyboards, our alter egos were sent out on a pub crawl together that somehow ended in a hayloft, according to our alter egos' blogs.

Creating a Burn Alter Ego was Social Media Insider's first homework assignment, since I asked people to report back what they thought. The votes have been coming in, via email, Facebook, and my original post,  and it seems most of those involved in the group critique aren't feeling it. The Burn, I mean.



This is a tough crowd, and not really the product's target audience, which according to Stafford Green, who heads interactive for Coke Europe, is people who probably haven't launched their professional careers. "Burn is a nightlife drink," he said.

Now, you may wonder why I got in touch with Coke for what is supposed to be a critique -- It's not as though Barbara Lippert calls up Michael Bay every time she reviews one of his spots -- but social media apps are an evolution. As Green confirmed, some problems with the app are being addressed, and perhaps more will be.

Since I have to distill the critics' thoughts down to just a few, I'd say they center on a technical issue, interactivity issues, and a blatant-salesmanship issue. The critics, and Green, elaborate below: </p><p>

The Technical Issue: As one critic, who asked not to be named, put it: "The Flash interface is heavy and takes a long time to load ..." According to Green, the team has tripled the speed since a month ago, but stopped short of making the graphics pixillated because it would diminish the experience in another way -- by making the interface look less rich.  

Interactivity Issues: As John Speck from Real Advertising said, "Interactivite [sic]? Not. It's all just grabbing junk off menus. And then your ‘experience' is completely out of your control and up to the imagination of whatever executive signed off on the 'situations.'" Added Jay Moonah, a digital marketing strategist in Toronto: "Dressing up my avatar and then pushing a button to send it on an ‘adventure' without any further input?  I don't see it as engaging at all." Green explained that randomness is the point. "[Burn] extends your night and you have a lot of random experiences." he said.

As for another interactivity complaint from Lena L. West -- that your alter ego should get in touch with you more often in case you forgot to check up on its nighttime activities -- Green said he had just set up the application to check in once a month with those who had been out of touch with their alter egos (hmmm ... is that a psychiatric condition?), but was wary of doing it more often. "I'm really sensitive to not bugging people," he said.

The Blatant Salesmanship Problem: At various times, alter egos consume product and blog about it. Not good, was the not-all-that-surprising feedback. " I went out with some-guyalicious, and in the end, ‘it was a good thing we had so much Burn,'" said one critic, quoting from her Alter Ego's blog. "As a writer, I hate this line. As a consumer, I hate this line." Ouch. Another critic, Melissa Cavanaugh, pointed out that since you can approve your alter ego's blog posts before they go up, she changed her settings and rejected the one that mentioned the product. "We try to go light" with product mentions, said Green, adding that originally Burn mentions were "all over the stories."

This being a group of critic/experts, there was some constructive criticism. Kevin Burke, founder of Lucid Marketing & Light Iris, thought that Burn could benefit from being, well, more Facebook-y. "This app would be better if there were 'bite size nuggets' of stories that were easy to view and share -- ya know, the things Facebook does real well!" he said.

But given that most of our critics aren't part of the target market, perhaps we should listen to the voice of Ellen Kelly from Peculiar Productions in South Carolina, who does seem like she's closer to the target demo than most of us. "I loved that you could completely customize the avatar, environment, and so on. And the random stories people came up with... hilarious! I think there are a few tweaks that need to be ironed out, but overall it's an interesting application.  My coworkers loved it too, especially the designers :)."

I'm going to continue to look for new apps for us to test-drive. I'd love one for a more practical product next time, but if you have ideas of any stripe, send ‘em our way. Thanks to all who played along this time.

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