A New Approach to Virtual Advertising


A New Approach to Virtual Advertising

As consumer market sectors from Baby Boomers to Gen-Xers and Millennials, to Generation Z have become more immersed in the virtual worlds of social media and online gaming, advertisers have searched for effective ways to leverage the power of this user engagement. As one JIAD article notes, gamers interact with virtual content on a deeper, more personal level compared to traditional forms of media, and marketing firms look to embed their brands in those interactions in a number of ways.

Back in 2006, companies like Adidas and Toyota tested these waters by purchasing space in Second Life, a social gaming platform that lets users create their own content. Second Life creators at Linden Lab designed virtual stores for the companies, offering virtual and real-world items for sale. Other companies have used these platforms to test product launch ideas and gauge attitudes of virtual consumers.

Photo by Neville Hobson

Virtual world marketing is still a fresh concept with companies like Marriot, Dos Equis and others experimenting with wearable tech for ads. Clothing designers and retailers are beginning to use virtual fitting rooms where customers can input measurements and body-type data to try clothes on a virtual avatar before purchasing the actual items. One company, Acustom Apparel, currently uses 3D body scan technology to assist with more accurate measurements on tailored clothing sold at their New York and Los Angeles stores (Check out “Fashion Continues to go High Tech,” on the Taylor Blog).

Even as audiences on virtual platforms continue to grow, one study posits that profits from virtual world marketing have waned for many larger companies on platforms like Second Life and IMVU. In that case, what is the logical next step for advertisers?

How about “spokes-characters,” or brand mascots, to represent brands in games? Many companies have used “spokes-characters” over the years to personify their brands and build stronger connections with consumers. An article recently published in the JIAD explores “spokes-character” engagement on Twitter, suggesting that interacting with consumers through “spokes-characters” can impact their attitudes toward the brand.

Some classic examples come to mind in discussing brand mascots in games. A few companies have sponsored video games featuring their company mascot as the hero. The most popular example might be the Cool Spot games starring the red dot on the 7UP logo. There was also Too Cool to Fool starring Chester Cheetah on the Super Nintendo, and even the Kool-Aid man was featured in a game for the Atari 2600 back in the 80s. 

With the popularity and hyper-connectivity of open-world games today on both console and PC platforms, it would be interesting to study brand marketing campaigns in games like Second Life on a scale similar to the Toyota and Adidas campaigns. But instead of focusing on online retail venues, companies might use brand characters to interact with players in the virtual world. Of course, any selling would be limited to virtual items in the game as the Second Life marketing policies now prohibit links to any real-world purchases through the game. Still, a virtual mascot advertising virtual items, or even handing out virtual brand logo apparel might conceivably influence how consumers resonate with the brand. As previously mentioned, researchers are already studying the use of brand mascots to interact with consumers on Twitter and other social media. A similar approach could be taken to examine the impact of in-game brand mascots on brand perceptions.

Editor’s Note:

Read the full JIAD article: 
(“Brand Spokes-characters as Twitter Marketing Tools”)

For more on this topic, check out this issue:

Volume 15 – Issue 2

Journal of Interactive Advertising