What it is: Yes, while every brand and its brother have jumped into Second Life, MTV's 4-month-old virtual world has been testing advertiser integrations with Cingular, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble's Secret. So far, according to MTV, 350,000 registered users are spending an average of 36 minutes on each visit.
How the brands used it: Tim Rosta, senior VP-integrated marketing at MTV, said virtual-world marketing can expand on brand activation, communicate a brand attribute or act as a more straightforward extension of a campaign. Cingular used Virtual Laguna Beach to promote the fact it's all about communication, creating a virtual rep that acted as a party promoter, dishing out info on in-world social events. By interacting with him, users got bonus rewards such as VoIP access, skins for the instant-messaging player and animations of cellphones. Pepsi published an in-world 'zine that offers new areas of the world. By increasing their in-world skills, users can rack up MTV dollars for in-world purchases or Pepsi-branded items. Secret extended its "Tell us your secret" campaign with virtual booths where avatars could air their secrets for a chance to win a virtual cash prize.
The business model: There's not one -- yet. MTV Networks plans to eventually charge for integration into VLB.
What they learned: There has to be a reward for brand interaction in the virtual world -- access to a private area or increased functionality for avatars, Mr. Rosta said. Ninety-nine percent of Virtual Laguna Beach visitors are exposed to brands, and 80% of them voluntarily interact. Even though the overall impression numbers are still small, Mr. Rosta said experimentation is worth it. "You can see people will interact with brands in the way they do in the real world," he said.