It's been rough going in Second Life lately. First, Wired, initially a broad endorser of the platform, ran a story painting the virtual world as a money pit where brand marketers were getting out huckstered by 'fixers' in the virtual world who offer access to the elusive (some would say inflated) group of participants. Next, a ban on gambling in the world's casinos spurred a bank run which may lead to losses of up to 750,000 of virtual residents' real dollars.
So when we got an invitation to a screening of "Happiness Factory: The Movie" in SL, we naturally created an avatar, Delicious Eel, and set out to see how it went. Things can't be all bank runs, virtual adultery and zero-sum marketing, can they?
Happiness Island, Coke's private showplace, looked less like anything from the eponymous films and more like downtown L.A., with a red carpet leading to the theater, where avatars strolled past 2D cutouts of paparazzi and adoring fans.
RiversRunRed, an "immersive spaces company" which orchestrates events in SL ran this one, as it has previously for Phillips, ING Direct and Vodafone, according to its website. Some half-dozen RRR affiliated-avatars attended, probably to make sure things went smoothly-they didn't do much other than stand around during the event.
But then neither did anyone else. Like any normal press conference, Coke employees, who, as far as we could tell, outnumbered journalists in the morning session almost 3-1, chit-chatted while a smattering of non-affiliated attendees waited for the screening. RiversRunRed's moderator stalled for time while we waited for the 'special guest,' playing the old 'ten more minutes' game. And, sticking to true press conference form, as neither food nor beverage was served, save virtual Cokes and popcorn, the dozen or so hacks got restless, cracking lame jokes, letting out a few virtual belches and boos before the simulacrum of celebrity Avril Lavigne arrived. But for Second Life, where the most deviant behaviors on the Internet get rendered in 3D, it was pretty tame stuff. After Lavigne, or her publicist or intern or whomever was operating the avatar arrived (she never spoke), things got groan-worthy, with a Sky News Online editor shouting his requests for a word from Lavigne, who interacted less with the participants than the Coke machine in the lobby that dispensed press packets.
Eventually the curtain began to open, stuttering, opening, closing, opening, closing and finally opening for good. A spokesperson gesturing with a mic who we assume was giving an introduction didn't come through to us, then a message came from RRR's administrator: Click to watch the film. We clicked, saw a blue screen, then a pixilated video that resolved in time for last scenes of the ad. Not so good on that front. Afterward, TV personality and adman Donny Deutsch's avatar bounded around the stage while interviewing Marc Mathieu, Coke's senior vice president, brand marketing and creative excellence. Considering we only saw a few seconds of the film, this was the most amusing part of the hour-long event. Unfortunately, a live Q&A with the audience wasn't part of the experience—attendees could only submit questions to Coke's email address. When technical difficulties abruptly ended the dialog, we took the opportunity to spirit Delicious Eel off into the clouds and return to reality, confident in our experience that press events are as tedious and awkward on the Internet as they are in real life, especially when you spend five minutes bounding around the theater trying to figure out how to sit down like we did.
Nevertheless, the event had its plusses. They could have debuted "Happiness Factory: The Movie" at a landfill on a 100 degree day and it would still be a fantastic, moving piece of branded entertainment. And we didn't have to throw away a bunch of plastic and paper when we'd gleaned the information we needed from the virtual press kit. No one had to get on an airplane (or leave their pajamas) to attend. And hey, we saw Avril Lavigne and Donny Deutsch!
Here's Coke's sweetened account of the event. Below it, see it how we saw things.
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