We’ve all heard the knock on marketing in Second Life — brands that do it get a splash of PR, but little else. Most brands end up with abandoned virtual storefronts and negative ROI. So last week, when Google (GOOG) introduced “Lively,” its own virtual worlds product we had hopes that it might suceeed where Linden Lab (SAI 25: #11) failed.
Not so much. We checked in on the National Geographic Channel’s virtual worlds space — touted by Google as the first Lively branded experience — four times over the past week. All four times the rooms were deserted. No visitors, no tech journalists, no one from National Geographic’s staff, no one from the consulting firm that built the rooms. Google’s stats show 266 visits to one National Geographic room and 188 to the other — hardly the type of numbers to justify a likely six-figure advertising campaign.
That doesn’t mean Lively is entirely empty. It just means that, like Second Life, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be an effective place for marketers — unless they want to associate their brands with sex and violence.
Google says there’s to be no sex in Lively, and it won’t let your avatars get naked or copulate. But a look at the service’s most popular “rooms” tells you where Lively’s head is at. Key words like “sex room” and “adult chat” dominate the listings. In the non-sex themed rooms, female avatars get approached and “kissed” without their consent.
And then there’s Lively’s other popular venue: “Fight Club.” Lively is pre-installed with a number of surprisingly violent animations, including the popular “crush.” Crush takes a cue from the old Road Runner cartoon and drops an anvil from the sky to slam the target of your ire. There are other options, though: You can also choke someone, or give them a boot to the groin.
We do think there’s something magical about 3D chat and the sense of intimacy it imparts. Google was smart to set up a beachhead in the virtual worlds space, and we’re not yet ready to completely write off Second Life either. But Second Life was never able to quite crack the walnut of virtual worlds advertising. And unless Google has some tricks up its sleeves, it’s not going to be able to do it, either.
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