November 27, 2010

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Virtual Real Estate

It’s hard enough to sell real property to real people, so how tricky would it be to enter into the fictitious real estate worlds of places such as Second Life (SL) or Home? And if you think it’s all mindless child’s games, what if you could be convinced to be there not to ‘play’ but to be seen by real potential customers and make real money? The validity of advertising in these virtual spaces is an interesting concept that is yet to be fully explored but it is happening…

For those who don’t know, Home is Playstation’s attempt at a 3D world where people create a character (avatar) and connect with others. You are given an apartment and then basically you have free reign to start interacting with others. It’s very similar to SL and whilst only new, there appear to be plans to capitalize on the advertising opportunities and virtual real estate within the environment. And why not? There are millions of people who spend nearly all their leisure time gaming in these spaces who rarely see TV or magazine advertising. So what better way to capture this market? How else would you reach this demographic?

In-game-advertising is an emerging market so there is little hard data about spend vs effectiveness as yet, but the projections are for spends in excess of US$700million by 2010. It is definitely an exciting new media opportunity that will be explored by entrepreneurial businesses looking for an edge on competitors. Interestingly, President-elect Obama recently paid US$44.5k to run ads in Xbox’s Burnout Paradise to reach the young voters in 10 hotly contested states. I’m not sure of the exact results here, but he won, right??!!

In 2006, American Apparel took a gamble and set up a store in SL, selling T-shirts to avatars and rewarding visitors with discount coupons for real merchandise. They were the first major retailer to take the ‘virtual step’, and whilst they didn’t make a fortune from $1 T-shirt sales, they did generate a lot of PR and buzz around their activities which had a flow on effect to their online and offline stores.  An interesting outcome for the innovative business. (You can read more here: Search)

So how could it work for estate agents? Whilst there are no direct advertising spaces to purchase in SL there are a number of ways you can get your message out there. (Source: Second Life Wiki)

  1. Create a presence in SL - you can create and publicize an ongoing presence in SL through events and advertisements in SL newspapers etc. The key is fresh content, so posting new listings and news could be a great driver of traffic. As with any form of advertising you need to ensure people know it’s happening, so you should publish the fact that you are in SL on blogs, on your website, on You Tube and any other internet related activities you may engage in.
  2. Active Advertising - a more long term but difficult method is to script ways that people can interact with your brand/product/service in SL. You may be able to get discussion groups going, or have a representative hand out flyers with your info on it which can then open out to specific listings or your website.
  3. Distributed Advertising - there are meeting place such as shopping centres, clubs, bars, and universities in SL that will possibly put up posters or kiosks that include information about your business. You can even have people teleported to your specific location in SL if you have set up a presence. There is often a small fee associated with this.
  4. Advertising Networks - some businesses have set up distributed advertising systems whereby you can pay to have your ad displayed at a certain time and location. Some just included images but many allow for interactivity with the content such as teleporting to another location, links to websites and video streaming.
  5. Person to Person - you will have to set up an avatar, but this can be a great way to get a message about your service across to others who are interested. Your avatar should engage others in conversation and offer links to your listings/website or maybe free appraisals etc. It’s a low cost way of advertising but also a slow one, particularly if you are selling a service or high ticket item. Companies with small consumable products, such as Nestle Nesquick, have found this to be an effective way of advertising.
  6. Media - Every parcel in SL can incorporate an audio and video stream. So you can simply publish a streaming URL and any land owner can add this to their land to enable the stream. Of course you’ll need to provide a reason to do it - good content, or payment - as well as publicizing your stream so residents know about it. There are also radio and tv stations in SL which provide streaming broadcasts and can include advertising just as in real life.

So you can see there are a number of ways in which you might be able to advertise your services - and even your listings - in SL. And no doubt, similar options will be available in Home shortly. You may not be able to directly attribute the sale of a home from advertising on SL, but you may get an instruction/listing that you otherwise wouldn’t have and your brand will get better recall amongst this demographic than your competitor who is not present. It also gives you an edge and something new to talk about in your newsletter or on your website.

And yes, you’ll need someone with a good imagination and a bit of wherewithal to get started, but it’s not impossible or expensive. Just as you should be thinking creatively about all your advertising options, the virtual real estate world is a blank canvas for the creative agent.

Food for thought.


Related posts:

  1. Franchising the Virtual Real Estate Office

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