Second Life is just one of a growing number of three-dimensional virtual worlds, accessible via the Internet, in which users, through an avatar, are able to play games or simply interact socially with thousands of people simultaneously. By some estimates, more than 10 million people spend $10 to $15 a month to subscribe to online role-playing environments, with the number of subscribers doubling every year. Millions more enter free sites, some of them sponsored by companies as brand-building initiatives. Many users spend upward of 40 hours a week in these worlds. And as the technology improves over the next decade, virtual worlds may well eclipse film, TV, and nonrole-playing computer games as a form of entertainment. Thats because, instead of watching someone elses story unfold in front of them on a screen, users in these worlds create and live out their own stories.
When marketing online, you want sustained engagement with the brand rather than just a click-through to a purchase or product information, says Bonita Stewart, responsible for interactive marketing for DaimlerChryslers Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge brands. Avatars create an opportunity for just this type of engagement.