Profit from online alter egos

A whole new (virtual) world is opening up to companies looking for new markets. Marketing specialists are beginning to discuss how companies can develop clever marketing strategies aimed at avatars - an online alter ego or persona - and their real-world creators.

by Harvard Business Review, February 2006

There is big money in this new market. Yahoo, for example, already has seven million avatars, used in instant messaging and fantasy sport.

More promisingly, there are millions of people playing online games from World of Warcraft to Second Life (in which online atavars set up households, find jobs and establish personal relationships). Ten million players currently spend $10 to $15 a month for subscriptions to online games, and a further $100m a year is spent on items such as weapons earned by avatars from eBay and other auction sites.

By studying the avatars, marketers might be able to gain greater insights into their creator's dreams. There are many possibilities still to be explored. For instance, getting avatars to wear certain clothing brands might encourage the real person behind the alter ego to buy the same products.

There are risks, as McDonald's discovered several years ago when it set up a fast-food store in the Sims Online game and caused an uproar in cyberspace. But the author argues that if the idea is appropriate to the game, the response might not be hostile. For instance, it's best not to litter the banquet table in a medieval fantasy game with Pepsi cans. The future may therefore offer the chance to market to two people - the avatar and the creator.

Source: The avatar as consumer
Senior editor Paul Hemp
Harvard Business Review, February 2006

Review by Morice Mendoza

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