Advertising began with line ads in newspapers in the 17th century. A product description and a price, for a hundred and fifty years until the technology allowed illustrations and eventually color. Illustration saw advertisers link their products to fine art, hitching their products to the emotional, so that Pears Soap started to stand for the innocence of a clean, healthy child and all the positive nuances of parenting, instead of just animal fat.
As advertising discovered the moving image, or vice-versa, the products moved still further into the background. Teenagers on the beach and a pop music soundtrack cut deep grooves into the brains of the Coke generation. A logo and some product shots; bob’s your uncle.
Self-image by association; I drink therefore I am.
And the other vital connection: the conflation in the human mind between high production values and product image. Not so important if you’re marketing a product in the third world to be culturally appropriate. If your television advertisement is prettier and sexier than the local product’s, your brand will be seen that way too. In most parts of the world, America exported its special effects and successfully positioned its brands as sophisticated and modern.
It’s the brand, stupid. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like, it matters what the brand conjures up in the mind. This has been understood by modern advertisers since Coke and the Marlboro Man. All this you already know.
I mention it as an analog for what is about to happen in virtual marketing, because in this space, the virtual products are sexier looking than the real life products. What does this mean for branding?
It might mean that you don’t need to depict your real-world product in Second Life. Don’t take your dumb plain red t-shirts into Second Life. But that doesn’t mean there is no branding opportunity. Look for a product or experience in Second Life that adds something to your brand’s story. Then export it into the real world.
Enlarge the brand’s share of brain by exercising the client’s imagination. If the person you’re advertising to already knows your brand, you probably don’t need to show it to them again. Or remind them of its features. Maybe you don’t even need to mention it. Instead, give people a virtual experience that increases their involvement with your brand. I know this contradicts a lot of marketing orthodoxy. Frequency, frequency, frequency. Burn your name into their consciousness. But the thing is, brands are stories. They need to evolve. Virtual worlds offer up that opportunity.
If you’re a fashion house, create a space for fashion parades and invite in-world designers to exhibit. Then bring your trade partners in to Second Life. Give them a thousand Lindens and force them to choose between the designs they see. Ask them why they chose the ones they did. Try the outfits on. Engage your clients; create virtual relationships with people you normally only talk to on the telephone. Expand the scope of relationships. Use the virtual world to add some style or fun to your brand.
You supply veterinary products? Take your clients dancing on the lawns among the giraffes. Then send them a real-world product presentation the next day with a giraffe soft-toy.
Don’t be too literal. You sell risk-management software? Take your people virtual skydiving. Give their avatar an animation that has them juggling knives. Fire them out of a cannon. Then give them a video of that happening.
Personalize your brand. Take the example of a health and beauty brand. Bring a client in, take them shopping, give them a make-over and put the before and after photos on a web page for them. Branding and identity are closely linked and helping someone enhance their appearance in a virtual world is a powerful bonding experience.
Properly engineered, the virtual world can supply a context for a brand that helps you tell a story. Biased I know, but Inside This World’s Holodecks are the best tool for doing this. Promote your range of luggage by constructing different hotel lobbies and airports around it, promote your beer by giving people outrageously stylish bars, promote your bank with virtual sports cars and swimming pools.
Your brand is no longer an logo. Your brand is an experience.