GDC08: Building brands in virtual worlds

We've seen a lot of interesting things at the Worlds in Motion Summit which took place at GDC earlier this week, we found this post-mortum of Scion's virtual campaign in fascinating. While we tune out commercials and skim over print advertisements as much as anyone, but well thought-out interactive advertisements in virtual worlds still feel novel and interesting. (Well, okay, some of them aren't.) So what made Scion's campaign stand out? Read on for an analysis.

Investing in virtual worlds wasn't new to Scion when they teamed up with and Metaversality: they already had a presence in Gaia, Second Life, and Whyville. Their goals in marketing in a virtual environment were:
  • to create a compelling and unique interactive experience that would both foster new community and benefit existing community
  • to increase brand awareness
  • to convey the brand's attitudes
In August 2007, this lead to the launch of "Club Scion." The club was nightclub-type environment for people to have fun and socialize while immersed in the Scion brand. The initial concept from Scion requested:

Behemoth Scion vehicles that you can walk around inside of.

This, obviously, isn't the sort of thing that's practical in a non-virtual space. Though a company could purchase land and construct massive vehicles, in the real world this would be an excessively expensive and time-consuming project. And then you have the problem of convincing people to come! Though exploration plays a heavy role in virtual environments (where transportation is easy and there are always new things to see), the real world has more constraints (beyond the simple cost involved for people to travel, time and distance can make visiting a physical location a complete impossibility for some). In a virtual environment anyone in the world can visit if they wish -- and people will likely at least stop by to investigate something new and different.

However, saying "let's do this virtually" didn't remove all of the challenges inherent in such a project. First on the list: Metaversality had to find a way to translate a real object into a viable virtual environment. They had to turn the cavernous interior of an oversized car into a space that was easy to navigate and fun to explore. The design process started with the identification of what each of Scion's cars "meant." The design team associated words, music, art, and photography with each vehicle to work on developing a particular feel and style to make each one unique.

From this brainstorming, they took the car's basic design (the same as the real car's layout) and started to sketch interior layouts trying to set the mood they wanted to achieve.

They drew inspiration from the works of contemporary architect Zaha Hadid, whose modern, flowing structures will be echoed in the Scions' curving walkways.

The final design concept (above) was quite similar to the final product (below). The colorful streaks are actually walkways allowing visitors to move from one part of the club to the next.

In the end, some 13,000 individuals visited Club Scion, spending a total of 1,915 hours inside (or approximately nine minutes per user). While in the club, people clicked on Scion's kiosks 44,000 times (or an average of 3 per person). For an idea of how these numbers stack up to more traditional advertising methods, the average user interaction time for a standard online interactive advertisement video is a grand total of 14.23 seconds. Scion clearly considered this a success, as they have since expanded the campaign to add additional interactivity by allowing visitors to decorate the club and create custom Scions to drive.

What does this mean to us, the players and inhabitants of virtual worlds? It means that this sort of advertising has proven successful in some cases (presumably when the company is interested in the world's specific demographic) and it's not going away -- the best we can hope for is it to at least be interactive and entertaining.
This article was originally published on Massively.