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Apr 26, 2004



Branding is still too broad a term. Is there room for Branding? In short, No.

Although, there is room for 'relevant content creation'.



Thanks, Betsy!

Lots of great insights in this. It's interesting to compare this space with 1) conventional forms of online advertising -- e.g. branded Web-hosting, search engines, etc. -- and 2) advergaming (like Ian looks at over at Water Cooler Games).

The capacity for VW participants to self-brand themselves and exert some control over the extent of advertising in virtual space is obviously a significant development. Several sections of this reminded me of Rosemary Coombe's book, esp. when I couldn't tell whether community reactions to a particular signifier indicated approval or subversion of its established meaning.

It is pretty much inevitable that we'll see brands permeate VW spaces, esp. ones with user-created content. But it will be interesting to see exactly how important Sponsored Worlds (e.g. CokeMusic/America's Army/Toontown) will become and how in-world branding efforts (Levis/McDonalds) will play out.


Really looking forward to reading this! What I'm most interseted in is the question of how players perceive ads differently (or the same) in game/vw spaces. We've talked about this a bit at Water Cooler Games (browse here).

Not sure if you take this up in the paper, but I'll check it out as soon as I come up for air!


I’ve yet to read the paper (its downloading as i type), but in the past I have talked to people who study ‘advergaming’ about whether classic brand metric studies have been done on people who see, say TV commercials, vs people that interact with advergames – but so far I have not been able to track any study down.

I can see arguments either way. One the one had you could say that ‘playing a brand’ would mean that it had a deeper effect, on the other you could say that if a game is good enough people will probably just ignore the brand. Possibly there is a very rare combination where brand values and game values match so that both reinforce each other.


Thanks for the great paper Betsy.

We've noticed some interesting experiments in brand development in Second Life. First is the one that's already been discussed here -- Avalon, the island founded by Fizik Baskerville. Avalon was started with the goal of using community development and relevant content creation to begin the process of brand building within a virtual world, but with the ultimate objective of taking the brand out into the broader 'real' marketplace. While it's still in its infancy, I believe that we'll see this form of brand building become far more effective than the more traditional process of importing (and sometimes imposing) brands from outside the community.

Another interesting way that a resident is building a brand and business from within Second Life is by obtaining a merchandise license from Linden Lab and offering customers a choice of Second Life merchandise in world for Linden currency or on the web at CafePress for US$.


Hmm. Okay, so you are all ten billion times smarter than I am, so you've probably thought of this, but isn't any commercial virtual world game we play (Everquest, et al) a brand in itself? So, we are playing a brand, even if it isn't a world created to sell a brand outside of the world itself, the game is created to sell itself, so it seems to be only a subtle distinction.

Until we have fully open source or whatever games where we create our own worlds, which I fully support and don't play virtual world games that control the content and game world and then charge a monthly fee for the privilege to play their game and "own" their stuff and even the character isn't really yours, at least not according to their licensing agreement (which is why I prefer Neverwinter Nights, which is a lesser of the evils) even then, we will have people introducing outside objects into their games and because most of us live in such advertising-oriented worlds where we are constantly inundated with brands and advertisements to the point where most of us own at least one piece of clothing or other item with a brand on it and most of us own many many more, and we pick and choose the objects in our lives based on the brands either primarily or secondarily (remember when they had generic food that had white labels with black generic printing that said 'bread' or 'creamed corn' but nobody would buy it, so they switched it to 'store brands' which sell better, but are exactly the same contents and for the most part the exact contents of a major label brand) it isn't all that surprising that we would carry those with us into virtual worlds where we are basically being ourselves, but different, often making up for shortcomings we see in ourselves. Our avatars are prettier, stronger, faster, everything we can't be. As a disabled person, that is one of the major reasons I play in virtual worlds, because I can't play outside.

Um, I should probably read the paper, huh?

I'm sorry, I'm always like this. I shouldn't post and try to pretend I'm smart.


Oh my god...I just love how the first response was an "ad"! That's perfect. Thank you. Fizik, I'm very interested in your project so let's stay in touch.

Robin, is the Second Life merchandise virtual or real? Or both? Can you share a link to the CafePress site?

Ian, I'd never been to Water Cooler Games before but clearly we need to talk :) I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of the paper.

I didn't specifically address the ways in which members perceive ads online vs. offline in this paper, but rather tried to give a summary of the wide range of reactions to many different types of in-world projects. I don't know how successful any of these projects have been on a large scale. But I can certainly tell you that I personally wanted a real Levi's jacket after wearing one in There and I found myself buying bottles of coke all last summer so I'd have more decibels to furnish my studio (yes I felt like an ass buying those cokes but I did it anyway...all in the name of research, I tell you).

The question about whether in-world ads bring realism to a vw is interesting. I think in the case of the Coke logos used in the Active Worlds fifties diner and futuristic Times Square this was definitely the intention (and how interesting is it that the same corporate logo could be used to successfully evoke both past and future!). Very much like the ads on the sides of Las Vegas' New York, New York Casino.

But in other cases like the teens bringing brand names into their screen names and room names, the goal is not necessarily to make the virtual world more realistic, but rather to use the brand to signify affiliation with a particular social group or clique. Furthermore, I would bet you virtual dollars that online identity is closely tied to offline identity for these teens as well. One would have to conduct a real ethnographic online/offline study to prove that, but that's my theory. I would also bet that in the cases of the branded teens their use of brand names is both a subversion and an approval of its established meaning.

The McDonald's and Intel ads are more like the Dole bananas in Super Monkey Ball 2 that Ian wrote about. And I agree this sort of product placement isn't necessarily the most effective tactic.


hanna wrote: isn't any commercial virtual world game we play (Everquest, et al) a brand in itself? So, we are playing a brand, even if it isn't a world created to sell a brand outside of the world itself, the game is created to sell itself, so it seems to be only a subtle distinction.

That's a good point. The designers of virtual worlds and the official goods offered within them are usually pretty careful to ensure that these goods are consistent with the brand image of the virtual world itself. I'm sure that when a third party company is brought into the mix they think carefully about whether the brand is compatible or not.

And hanna, you were certainly smart enough to immediately pick up on the relationship between branding and personal identity and how this plays out in the creation of avatars, and you haven't even read the paper! So don't put yourself down :) You are the first respondent to comment on that aspect and I was excited to see it because I consider this a vital key to understanding branding in virtual worlds.


Betsy -- yep, let's get in touch off-blog. I'm traveling for the next few days but I'll print a copy of the paper to read on the way. You can find my email addy over at WCG, on any of the comments I've posted.


Betsy> Can you share a link to the CafePress site?



I thought it was a great article. Here's what else I thought of it.



News story kind of on-topic, fwiw:


(Talmadge Wright, quoted as sociologist interested in gaming, now added to blogroll... his paper in Game Studies here)


Hi Betsy,

What a great paper, and I think the timing is perfect. In fact, I think we are at a stage (6-18mo.) where mainstream brand advertising is just about to make a major shift to budgeting for advertising in games.

Also, AdvertisingAge is planning on running a special edition in conjunction with Ad: Tech 2004.


From a numbers/dollars/eyeballs/attention perspective, I think it's pretty obvious that there are some big changes ahead.

Again, thanks for the paper, it's a great starting point to this very long journey.



Neat paper...

When you say that younger age groups are more open to this kind of advertising, and I agree, I also believe they are actually more open to branding in all respects/areas/places not just online VWs. I also believe that openness to branding goes away as a person matures and needs less and less external validation.


Interesting. The line that I have been obsessing about is this (P12 Active Worlds):

    Still, as these logos exist purely as decorative devices, they cannot be considered legitimate examples of a virtual ad campaign.

I don’t think that a brand such as Coke can be used for ‘purely’ decorative purposes. Whatever the authorial intent they are using a brand mark that has currency today – so other stuff is bound to go on. What’s more the brand is within a specific context that is providing further value to it.

Thus I wonder what we mean by legitimate in this context of a digital environment where brands can be reproduced with pixel perfection.

I also wonder, as a matter of fact, whether Coke gave its OK for the marks to be used in this context - as I think that the key ones, at least, are still covered by trademark. If so I think one could argue that this is part, if not of a campaign, then at least an overall brand strategy.

Even if there is no company backing for these particular digital artefacts, the fact of their use seems to confer a certain legitimacy on them and receive legitimacy from them. As noted later in the paper, in non branded worlds people still adopt brand names as part of cultural identification, is this legitimate, do we or the brand owners care just so long as people are not using names like brandXsux.



I'm with ren on the use of Coke branding... the big question for me is what the "other stuff" is that is bound to go on. I'm not yet convinced that in-game branding functions in the same way as out-of-game branding. on WCG, we've talked about in-game ads as reality markers that may be phenomenologically different than "real" outdoor ads. As of now, I'm inclined to take this view. Here's one example of what I mean.


Regardles of how the receiver perceives the image or identification of brand placed in front of them, they are still considered an "impression", as in number of impressions.

The secondary question is whether the impressions created are part of a strategically designed campaign.

Similar observations and discussions can be made about your favorite magazine on whether they are "selling out" to advertisers in their content or "getting into" the culture.

Whatever the case, it is interesting to read about how people in VW are naturally moving to more sophisticated modes of getting their names out. Kinda like how some in-game economies have evolved.

Haven't read the whole paper yet, but is there a section on overt advertising of your "street cred" (reputation).

VW art styles may be the next Pop Art.



I am 99.99999% sure that the use of the Coke logos in these two Active Worlds environments was not officially sponsored or sanctioned by Coca-Cola. I could find no press releases about any Coke/AW partnership and no net chatter about such a deal from a number of different searches. If anyone out there knows for sure by all means speak up :)

Plus, the Coke logos are one of many logos used in these spaces and I highly doubt AW had a sponsorship with any of the other companies either. Truly, I think the builder of Times Square was simply trying to make it look like Times Square (which has a big famous Coke ad at the north end) and the builder of the diner was simply trying to find images that fit a certain retro style.

But by saying the images are being used purely as decorative devices I was only referring to the intentions of the builders. That doesn't mean the *viewers* of the ads don't read them as ads. They are still legitimate impressions, whether the builder meant them to be true product endorsements or not.


Hi Betsy and yes I am the guilty party attempting a new venture with my partner Pahoa Jade in the world of Second Life.

Currently with our License Agreement we are selling articles on Cafepress with the Second Life Logo on it as well as doing custom Shirt marketing by applying images of the Avatars people use in world on a Real World T-shirts.

In addition to that we are offering select product based on a Money-Conversion rate for Real life Clothing Items by offering a Service to In world members.

In essence they pick a product from our Vendor in world and pay us the Linden Dollar amount through the vendor. We in turn convert that to Real Cash and purchase and send the Real World Item to them.

Its in its infancy right now. However, if it works the future of Metaverses may be riddled with this sort of Capitalistic venues.

Im not a professional Game designer/advertiser/or graphics person. All this is new for my partner and I but we jumped in Head first and are learning as we go.

Also I read your article on the Branding. Great Article, however I do have a question was your intent to primarly focus on the genre of 12-21yr old market that a lot of the brading is geared toward?

The reason I ask is due to in Second life there is a much larger mature population there that tend to have a sincere adversity to "Branding" in a virtual environment. Many hold fast and defend their stances with a tenacity that can only be compaired to the clamp of a bulldog.

If you would like to discuss any of this with me please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

Sincerely, ShadowWeaver


Hey everyone, I've moved the paper over to SSRN to help ease the traffic burden on VWR. An automatic redirect is in place, but please update your bookmarks to:


And please use the SSRN address when sending the paper URL out to friends and colleagues. Thanks!


Hi ShadowWeaver and thanks for posting. You have a very interesting project going there. The idea of people buying t-shirts with their avatars on them is particularly interesting. Do you have a photo of someone in RL wearing a t-shirt with an image of their avatar that you can share? Do people ever order shirts with someone else's avatar on them and are they allowed to do so without that person's permission? Are there avatar "stars" whose image is sold on a t-shirt? Or is it usually more of a vanity purchase? I can see in-world clubs ordering t-shirts with a group photo. I can see couples ordering them as anniversary gifts or as gifts for guests attending an online wedding.

Okay, I am going to stop obsessing about t-shirts now.

You asked: was your intent to primarly focus on the genre of 12-21yr old market that a lot of the brading is geared toward?

I did not want to focus primarily on the youth market, so I did make sure there were samples of advertising in worlds targeted to older audiences as well. But when I took a look at all the examples I had collected it turned out that a great many of them were in fact geared towards kids/teens. I don't think this is coincidence either. I think the youth market is being more aggressively targeted by advertisers in general and this is simply being reflected in the current state of virtual worlds today.

And yes, I had certainly noticed the SL community's aversion to in-world commercial projects. You and Fizik have your work cut out for you.


Hello again Betsy, Unfortunately no we do not have any pics of individuals wearing customized clothing or holding up product as of yet. Primarly because SL seems to have a fickle bunch of residents. This goes back to the advertising aspect that many do not like it in anyway.

Some feel its a game hence the "I don't want to be bothered with it" attitude. Many think what we are doing is a great idea but still very little actual responce to date.

SL is more of a world of word of mouth. One has to get out and get visual in the world to be known. Real life you wouldn't catch me dead in a crowd but in Second Life we are making as visable a front as we can currently.

Time will tell for us this is a whole new realm we are stepping into and a different approach that has been used in the past with other On Line worlds.

Thank you for your support and this posting where we could respond.

Sincerely, Shadow Weaver


Dear Betsy,

Read your article. Very interesting! Wrote on branding and America's Army myself. I think your paper has an error on the subject of America's Army. I'm doing research on this game for my thesis so that's why I'm interested in your view. I wrote a short comment on your paper here: http://www.gamespace.nl/article.php?story=20040507132551393. I hope I'm wrong.



Hi David, unfortunately I just saw this comment or I would have replied earlier. Regarding your objections to my claim that the U.S. Army does not track players, I find it curious that you quoted from the America's Army FAQ but you did not include the full answer to the second question:

Q: Will the Army know whether or not I'm a good player?
A: The Army will not be able to identify you individually unless you choose to reveal your personal information.

No. The Army will not be able to identify you individually unless you choose to reveal your personal information. Prior to any point at which you provide sufficient information for an association to be possible between your game data and your name, you will encounter an advisory dialog box from which you can back up. Players who request information AND reveal their nom-de-guerre to Recruiters may have their gaming records matched to their real-world identities for the purpose of facilitating career placement within the Army. Data collected within the game such as which roles and missions players spent the most time playing could be used to highlight Army career fields that map into these interest areas so as to provide the best possible match between the attributes and interests of potential Soldiers and the attributes of career fields and training opportunities.
(Last Updated: 2004-02-02)

Now perhaps you don't see that as "tracking" but I do. It's completely opt-in of course, so only those players who choose to identify themselves as being interested in career opportunities are subject to this level of scrutiny.


Virtual World Real Estate taking over online advertising
(PRLEAP.COM) The online niche of virtual map-based advertising is growing rapidly and http://www.globe-ad.com is quickly becoming the best known website catering to this niche. The site launched January 7th and is quickly gaining ground.

"This is a really new idea that we believe will revolutionize the online advertising market,” said Creator of VirtualWorldRealEstate.com, Gary Ewell. "By combining pixel advertising and a virtual and interactive map of the world, advertisers are able to reach people around their geographic location as well as anyone around the world.

Map based advertisement is a hybrid of virtual maps and pixel based advertising sites that allows businesses and even individuals to purchase "virtual real estate" that will appear on the map online. With this "virtual real estate", the link to their website and other contact information is displayed when visitors look on the map.

However, imitators of VirtualWorldRealEstate.com are popping up and according to Mr. Ewell, there are at least six new map based advertisers that have come about after his original site launched.

There has also been a large amount of press coverage about VirtualWorldRealEstate.com and a great amount of interest from the public. Already, the site has grossed around $2,000 and has had several large property auctions on eBay for lucrative property from cities like London and New York. These auctions have also netted the site publicity and new viewers and advertisers.

VirtualWorldRealEstate.com is unlike other sites because it operates on a dynamic virtual map whose size can be changed and the "zoom in" and "zoom out" features are enabled. This makes it possible for visitors to see advertisers in their local area. Furthermore, anyone is able to view these advertisements, which allows traffic from around the world to visit an advertisement on the map. This combines the best in local advertisements and online advertisements to create a hybrid, which benefits both advertisers and web visitors.

However, the map is limited in advertising locations so the price is quickly increasing, especially for well-known property in major cities and other well-trafficked areas. Reports are that the map may fill up within 3-4 months, because of the rapid and exponential growth associated with sites of this type.

"We are already seeing rapid growth from this site and believe that a lot more is still to come" said Mr. Ewell. He went on to say, "I really think that this is the new breed of ‘Million Dollar Homepages’ as we are providing both a service for visitors and advertisers."

For more information on http://www.globe-ad.com or map based advertising sites in general, please visit the website or use the provided contact information.

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