Second Life: A Study in Virtual Advertising

As I walk through the virtual, user created, world of Second Life I notice a convergence, old forms of media advertising are melded into the atmosphere and have taken on a new twist.  Why are well established, highly regarded companies eager to have their name attached to this newly minted social medium?  In several ways, Second Life’s advertising is adapted from more traditional forms of advertising, it is changing the way users relate to one another.

Billboard advertising is big in Second Life, but some sponsors go beyond typical displays by providing free activities for avatars to engage in.  The companies develop rides, games and buildings to explore which help them promote who they are and what they do.  Base jumping is one adventure that a company called Booville Skydiving maintains.  An avatar can climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower designed in a world modeled after 19th century Paris.  Booville supplies users with a free parachute and instructions on how to use it, but also allows you to buy other, more dynamic skydiving experiences.  Avatars seem to flock to the site, I witnessed four of them take the plunge as I was up trying to figure it out for myself.  Although I am only a novice when it comes to Second Life, this lucrative advertising opportunity left an impression on me.

Until recently, consumers had to imagine themselves with products for sale in a traditional two-dimensional way, Second Life is able to put the products in their virtual hands.  An avatar can choose to wear any kinds of clothes he can afford, in the same way he can change his height or the shape of his goatee.  In this capacity Second Life shapes the image of a product’s brand in the mind of the viewer or the wearer.  Because you are embodied in your avatar, and have learned to make it move as you move, you begin to assume that the products you’re using are your own, they alter the way people look at you and the way you see yourself.

Corporations, both for and non-profit, can purchase and build a geographical presence on Second Life just to get their name in the mix.  The geography in this realm is similar to the idea of a shopping center, where consumers flock to an anchor store and, as a residual effect, afterwards, go to a nearby store because they are in the area.  I found this proximity factor to be the most common way to have new experiences.  Walking through Second Life forces a user to naturally look towards what’s coming up next.

In many ways, radio stations on Second Life mimic those in real life. When an avatar teleports to his or her destination, venue authors and architects can have a selection of music or a radio station featured on the Second Life soundtrack.  Radio here sounds and behaves much like radio in real life, but in the virtual world users who are connected by the same music, and the same commercials share a bond.  Users can listen to a song and tell others to listen in, or stations may direct users to an area of Second Life where a promotion is being held.  Those who worry that radio is destined to extinction take heed.

The advertising in Second Life is directly derived from what we know as advertising in the real world, this allows users to easily adapt and respond to what they already know.  This familiar relationship to reality offers new users a comfort level to the strange new world they experience, and reinforces their power to create something meaningful within it.


Film Review: Page One: Inside the New York Times

227x227bbIn 2010, just as Page One: Inside the New York Times was being made, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was releasing the now infamous department of defense materials provided by Chelsea Manning.  As a result of some amazing access given to the filmmakers on behalf of the New York Times, viewers are able to get an inside look at some of the decisions that were made on a story of this magnitude as it was developing. Some may remember the first Wikileaks video release, it consisted of a view from an Apache helicopter camera, the crew, heard on the two-way approach the scene which they believe to be a gathering of Iraqi insurgency troops. The crew sends a barrage of fire into the scene, killing what looks to be five or so people. Witnesses in a van who noticed the situation pull up to assist the men. The pilot and crew, who, at the time, had no knowledge of the van occupants open fire until there’s no sign of life. The Times chose not to show the video on their website due to its graphic nature.  Several months later the paper ended up publishing a series of front page articles that went about releasing some of the reports given to them by Wikileaks. They divulged some of the more covert operations that went on in Iraq and Afghanistan. This discussion and others like it about what should and should not make the news is threaded throughout the film. What develops is a tapestry of who we were as a nation in ’10 and how we consumed news.  For news agencies, it was a changing of the guard in many ways. Papers across the nation needed to respond to audiences’ wavering attention spans, divergent appetites and choice of media.  Ultimately, many outlets were forced to stop the presses… for good.

Page One also profiles the Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, both of whom were accused of publishing false information. Blair had been accused of plagiarizing other reporters from different news outlets that were assigned to the same event.  On the other hand, Miller reported claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, coverage which was said to have brought the nation to war.  Unfortunately, for Americans, her sources turned out to be incorrect.

The documentary follows reporters on stories, covers reaction on the unveiling of the first iPad and shows what a round of 100 layoffs in one of the most prolific newsrooms in the world looks like. You can find it on Amazon Instant Video as of this writing.

Hulu Commerce: Part III

Hulu Commerce: Collecting Resources

On All Sides of the User

How Hulu collects and triangulates data, uses advertising,

and circulates content from vertical integration –

with one click of your mouse

Part III

Welcome back to my in-depth series on Hulu.  This company is a dominant force among its competitors; Hulu has access to a higher quality of content than Google Inc’s, they can perform behavioral targeting more effectively than broadcast, and like Netflix they have a paid service, but they also have commercials.  In today’s installment I’ll talk about why Hulu’s fundamental reason for existence, commercials, has put them above their competitors.

The problem that drove media conglomerates to team up to create Hulu was the seemingly unavoidable death of the commercial.  In 1999, TiVo came out with its digital video recorder (DVR) and since then cable and satellite companies have followed suit, they issue DVRs of their own making along with their service.   Consumers now had the ability to fast-forward through commercials, along with being able to start and stop live

Courtesy Engadget

programming, but TiVo also taught media conglomerates that the day of reckoning had arrived (Patel2009).  Hulu was set up to force its customers to sit through commercials. The company created the pre-roll “selector” which allows viewers to choose between  brands they’d like their commercial breaks to be composed of, it is an opportunity to interact that has been shown to improve attention spans for the ads. (Learmonth2010)  These video ads and their companion banners typically sell for around $40 CPM, and 70% of the yielding goes back to the content providers.  The remaining 30% doesn’t leave a lot left for Hulu, but the company was set up to service these parent companies (Learmonth2010), and having a pay wall now helps to supplement the earnings.

Courtesy US Congress

Election campaigns have also now become a considerable source of commercial revenue for Hulu.  Political media buyers have been ordering from Hulu since the Obama administration began their campaign, the company can now use data mining capabilities to target customers right down to zip code (Delo2011).  Traditional broadcast television, a mainstay for Democratic and Republican campaigns, has too wide a gate when advertising in most district elections.  Much of the time a campaign is wasting money on people that live outside of a district, but Hulu has a sharper focus on such an area.

Who knows what future projects companies may be able to do with customer data such as Facebook posts, emails and registration details?  Perhaps it will be much more valuable or incriminating in the future.  Advertisers are already well versed in manipulating consumers into buying a product, what if data mining techniques become so precise that the consumer has no choice but to make a purchase?  If they know who we’re talking to, what we’re talking about, where we go shopping, what we had for dinner yesterday would they be able to engineer something that could evoke a response of their choosing?

A search into studies regarding data mining will lead you to conclude that advertisers now have psychoanalysis 2.0 at their disposal: not only do they know us as a people, they’re starting to understand us as individuals, and when they can develop software designed to guide each one of us to their wishes, then who will watch the watchers?  Could this rouse lawmakers to propose government regulations?  Will the government, fearful of more recession, choose to allow it to go on?  With power comes responsibility; consumers should come to expect ethical treatment from media companies.  These corporations should extend the professional courtesy that we all expect in face to face relationships, because that’s how intimate technology has allowed us to become.

Thank you for reading about Hulu, I think everyone could learn a little something more about a company who’s going to be a big part of our entertainment future.

Works Cited

Learmonth, Michael. “Hulu’s A Towering Success–Just About Every Way But Financially.” Advertising Age 81.13 (2010): 1-31. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Delo, Cotton. “Hulu Makes Play For 2012 Political Dollars As TV Ad Prices Heat Up.” Advertising Age 82.41 (2011): 2-26. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Liston, Ed. Hulu Decides to Quit Shopping for a Buyer. The Stock Market Watch. N.p. (2011). Web. Jan. 2012.

Patel, Nilay. “Ten Years of TiVo: how far we haven’t come” Engadget (2009): Web. Jan. 2012.

Hulu Commerce: Part II

Hulu Commerce: Collecting Resources

On All Sides of the User

How Hulu collects and triangulates data, uses advertising,

and circulates content from vertical integration –

with one click of your mouse

Part II

Welcome back to my in-depth series on Hulu.  This company is a dominant force among its competitors; Hulu has access to a higher quality of content than Google Inc’s, they have a paid service, and they can perform behavioral targeting more effectively than broadcast.  In today’s installment I’ll talk about data mining and the company’s new production arm, “Hulu Presents.”

Courtesy Yao Micro

Hulu uses another tactic in its multifaceted approach to making money.  Data mining is a process wherein the company creates software that trolls through the entire catalogue of its customer data, unearthing demographic information that can be sold to third parties or used to promote other content on the site (Hulu 2011).  Hulu uses a combination of three methods in the process of mining your data: they explore what you programming is watched, what you post on social networks, they collect information about you through “cookies” that your computer keeps a log of, and they send out web beacons that track emails you send, and other sites you look at (Hulu 2011).  A user’s computer stores this information, it collects data on where and when sites were visited,  performs data comparisons: last names, addresses and phone numbers.  Hulu may then deploy marketing that is location specific to the user; in other words when you log in anywhere in the world you are letting them know where you are so they can instantly tap into their arsenal of advertisers for that region.  In addition customer data is sold to third party advertisers and social networks.   Media buyers for Democrat and Republican campaigns find this data especially attractive during an election year; I’ll talk more about data mining later when I get to commercials.

Hulu is also engaged in production work, Hulu Presents is the video and film production arm of the corporation.  I had the chance to watch one of the eight series, documentary director Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) created a series called A Day in the Life.  Media Mogul Richard Branson, owner of Virgin-Atlantic, is the first to be profiled.  Reality TV is one of the least expensive genres of programming, and if it’s done well and has audience

Courtesy Hulu

appeal (e.g. BravoTV’s Real Housewives, MTV’s Jersey Shore) it can be a goldmine.  If the company can create a show of their own, market it with their own commercials, then they could climb the mountain of vertical integration.

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Hulu Commerce: Part 1

Hulu Commerce: Collecting Resources On All Sides of the User How Hulu collects and triangulates data, uses advertising, and circulates content from vertically integrated companies – with one click of your mouse. Part I It all begins with registration, the unsuspecting user, having heard her friends rave about what they saw on Hulu last night, […]