Remember virtual worlds? You know, those 3-D computer environments where users are represented on screen as themselves or as made-up characters and interact in real time with other users?
A few years ago, these online “other worlds” were the place to be for brand marketers. You couldn’t get through the day without reading about how such big brands as Cisco, Dell, Starwood Hotels and Toyota were plunking down a big percentage of their marketing budgets to be a part of the buzz — and hopefully get some returns.
These companies ran campaigns in these online worlds to build their brand names, test products and in some cases even sell digital merchandise.
The buzz around virtual worlds marketing has died down for sure. Many of these companies didn’t get the results they were looking for. The virtual worlds didn’t either. Second Life, for example, has even switched its business focus to training, promoting itself as a place where companies can hold meetings, conduct training, build product prototypes or simulate business situations “in a safe learning environment,” according to its Web site.
But despite the changes, virtual worlds marketing should not be ignored. Know why? Kids are now visiting these sites regularly, albeit not Second Life.
In 2008, eight million children and teens in the U.S. visited virtual worlds on a regular basis, according to a recent eMarketer article. What’s more, the online research firm projects that number will surpass 15 million by 2013. The report references an eMarketer report, Kids and Teens: Growing Up Virtual, which provides some more noteworthy findings.
The article estimates 37 percent of children ages 3 to 11 use virtual worlds at least once a month. By 2013, it projects that 54 percent will. In addition, 18 percent of teens will visit virtual worlds on at least a monthly basis this year; by 2013, that figure will rise to 25 percent.
What’s more, the article cited research from Virtual Worlds Management, which found that as of January, 112 virtual worlds aimed at children younger than 18 were already up and running worldwide, while another 81 were in development.
As a result, virtual worlds still offer tremendous opportunities for engagement, the article points out, such as offering marketers the ability to gain new insights into how consumers perceive and interact with their brands.
So, if you’re marketing to kids, why not give virtual worlds a try — especially those targeted to kids — either again or for the first time? You’ll be able to reach a captive audience with a unique marketing approach. You may even get a real ROI this time.