Alberto Fulham, for instance, shows visitors around El Dorado, one of six "islands" acquired in Second Life by Vidal Partnership, the biggest independent U.S. Hispanic agency. A four-screen movie theater screens films, and sculptures by leading artists are on display.
Clad in tight jeans, running shoes and a colorful T-shirt, Alberto Fulham is an avatar created by Alberto Ferrer, managing partner-director of direct and digital marketing at Vidal. Soon El Dorado will open a café, host concerts, and exhibit art and photography from Latin American artists, part of Vidal's goal to make El Dorado a place where visitors can indulge in all aspects of Latino culture, from film and theater to literature and food.
Virtual area precedes the real thing
Working with Vidal, Sprint last month opened in Second Life a virtual replica of the Sprint Center, an 18,500-seat arena that will open in the real world -- Kansas City, Mo. -- this fall. The virtual arena will feature concerts by Latin artists, including performances from the Sprint-sponsored reality TV series "Concierto Clandestino," broadcast on NBC Universal's Spanish-language network, Telemundo. Web users can visit a bar and lounge area, and a virtual Sprint store to see and learn about new phones.
"We were looking for an opportunity to amplify our Hispanic marketing efforts in an innovative way," said Ted Moon, director-digital marketing at Sprint Nextel. "It's not about just slapping our logo somewhere."
This year Omnicom Group's Dieste Harmel & Partners, Dallas, created La Ciudad, a Second Life space where Dieste hopes to greet visitors, show its creative work and perhaps generate new business. Most of the agency's 250-plus staffers have created their own avatars for the site.
"We're still trying to figure out [exactly] what to do," said Aldo Quevedo, Dieste's president-chief creative officer. "We have an Argentine copywriter who is a male stripper. He basically dances for money [in Second Life]. It's hilarious!"
He said the agency is in talks with a "couple of clients" interested in pursuing a Second Life strategy.
Marketing to a 'dog with wings'
Creating virtual worlds is enticing, but industry experts increasingly are skeptical about the actual value a marketer or agency can get from Second Life and unsure how many of the millions of registered visitors are regular users. "It's impossible to know exactly who is in Second Life at any moment, but I've bumped into people speaking Spanish several times," Vidal's Mr. Ferrer said.
Most studies show the average Second Life user is about 32 and tech-savvy, but the rest is less clear.
"In Second Life, you can be a dog with wings," said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer. "How do you market to a dog with wings?"
The best use of a virtual world so far in the U.S. Hispanic market isn't in Second Life. It's Toyota's Mundo Yaris, or World of Yaris (MundoYaris.com), created by Publicis Groupe-owned Conill, the carmaker's Hispanic agency. Conill tapped into Latinos' penchant for web games with Mundo Yaris, a virtual futuristic city where young bicultural Hispanics were introduced to Toyota's entry-level subcompact car -- a segment where Toyota was seen as more staid than its rivals -- and convinced them that Yaris is as much a trendsetter as they are.
As the hub of a campaign connecting online, TV and print, Mundo Yaris offered an online world of style and choices in creating music, film and art. The Yaris quickly jumped from unknown to the No. 1 entry-level subcompact car, with a 22% share of Hispanic car buyers in that segment.