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Bunny Forwzy, a slim Twentysomething with cropped black hair, has a penchant for beauty. She adores spritzing fragrance on her wrists and mulling over lip gloss shades, but lately, she’s been busy. Forwzy, you see, is an online character in the virtual world called Second Life. At present, she is preoccupied with knocking chores off her to-do list: Make friends with fellow avatars (translation: customized virtual characters); exchange U.S. money for “Linden dollars,” Second Life’s official currency, and build a virtual home.
Pixel by pixel, the limitless possibilities of Second Life are unfurling in front of her. Forwzy, one of nearly 6.1 million registered users on the site owned by San Francisco-based Linden Labs, will find that beauty giants Coty and L’Oréal have recently also discovered Second Life. L’Oréal Paris staged a Miss Second Life beauty contest in March for 250 avatars just like her. Suddenly, the four-year-old site is piquing the interest of other major beauty players. The Estée Lauder Cos. and Procter & Gamble (which has a small corporate presence on Second Life) do not currently have launch efforts planned for the site, but their executives admit they are intrigued by the workings of the budding online community.
Calvin Klein was the first to launch a fragrance in Second Life, introducing its ckIN2U men’s and women’s fragrances there in March. Visitors to the area can pick up virtual bottles and spritz their neighbors. All avatars are also invited to display photos of what they’re “in2” in the scent’s gallery space. “We always knew we wanted to take a new approach,” says Lori Singer, global vice president of marketing for Calvin Klein at Coty. “We felt instinctively that this is a community we wanted to know more about.” She notes that a host of influential bloggers are denizens of Second Life, and have generated reams of commentary on ck’s effort. An article in Second Life’s Reuters News Center ran with the headline, “Launching a scent in a fragrance-free world.”
Justin Bovington, chief executive officer of Rivers Run Red, the London-based “immersive spaces” agency that created the ck area, acknowledges that consumers cannot smell scents in Second Life, but points out that they can’t sniff a billboard or TV advertisement either.
Fragrance, after all, is also about imagery and, in this case, experience, Bovington says, adding that virtual communities are the new malls and clubs for Generation Y, who define themselves by their modes of communication. “In Second Life, consumers are choosing to have a relationship with brands rather than being bombarded with marketing messages,” he observes.
Companies that build a long-term presence in this “accelerated culture” are generally welcomed, he notes, adding that Adidas, which sells virtual trainers to avatars, saw Second Life sales outstrip retail sales at one point. The athletic brand now uses the site for trend-spotting.
Lancôme has also entered the virtual space to promote its Hypnôse Homme scent. Any time an avatar touches a digitally reproduced bottle—placed in strategic (albeit digital) locations, it is spritzed with the juice.
Michel Campan, vice president of interactive marketing and customer relationship manager at Lancôme International, notes that while marketers on Second Life cannot measure traffic or clicks, as they can on a branded Web site, they can gage buzz. Hypnôse Homme has been duplicated more than 800 times by Second Life avatars in their personal areas. Encouraged, the brand is considering more such projects.
Reuben Steiger, ceo of Millions Of Us, a San Francisco-based social media agency, says that, just like in the real world, commerce is welcomed in Second Life. “Fashion and beauty brands are particularly well suited because so much of what goes on in these communities revolves around modifying one’s looks,” says Steiger, adding that the average Second Life user is 32 years old, and while about 60 percent are men and 40 percent female, women account for 60 percent of the site’s usage hours.