Entertainment not Advertisement

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Today I attended the VIO business seminar in Second Life. The seminars are scheduled every Sunday at 11am SLT (US Pacific) and each has a speaker talking about a specific virtual-world business topic. Today’s speech was on machinima and AWM Mars and Ariella Languish gave very good presentations. One of the issues that was raised by an audience member was whether it was worthwhile for a purely in-world business to run a machinima advertisement. I’d like to discuss that amid a broader aspect of social media marketing.


Of course the short answer to the question is: probably not. The longer answer is much more meaningful to the broader business community in that it depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

The reason it is probably not worth it for many purely inworld businesses to run video advertising is that the costs involved in producing and streaming are quite high (possibly in the thousands of $US), whereas the exposure for your target market is likely to be quite minimal. In strictly monetary terms the apparent ROI would appear to be inadequately low. That said and done, I do know business owners that swear by it and who regularly run ads on SLCN. You ask them why and they will tell you that the times when they don’t run the commercials their sims and their web sites suffered a noticeable decrease in traffic. Obviously, for them, machinima advertising is having a positive effect. But I have to say that they are probably the exception to the rule.

One of the problems is methodology. Mimicking television without having the benefits that the broadcast medium brings is ill-conceived. There just simply aren’t the numbers watching and, more importantly, buying. My figures for SLCN are old, but even the ratings for our local community TV station exceeded SLCN’s viewing figures by an order of magnitude. I’m not trying to take anything away from SLCN, I’m just simply pointing out that using the same techniques that television uses will more than likely not work. And this applies not only just to in-world businesses but also to real-world entities that are using the web for promotion. It needs to be done differently.

Television, radio and print advertising as well as the majority of business web sites are push media. That means they push the information out to all and sundry in the hope that a large enough percentage will view, notice and act upon it. They tell us how great they are, that our lives are incomplete without their widget, and why it is better than all the other (similar) widgets on the market. It works – for some – but there is also a different approach.

Most commercial transactions are based on trust. We trust the local store to sell us a product, hopefully with a friendly smile and the minimum of fuss. But what happens when there is no smile or we have a bad buying experience? We usually find an alternative. Maybe travel a further kilometre down the road to another store.

If you build trust then you’re more likely to have repeat customerage. One of the excellent ways to build trust is to build communities. Consider it just another facet to delivering outstanding service. By building communities I’m not just talking about collecting a bunch of email addresses or snail mail addresses and sending out a weekly email of bargains and new products. That’s push media. What I’m talking about is creating pull media – an environment where customers are not only actively engaged in discussions with you and your staff about your products and business, but actually readily return just to engage you and the other customers. This is the essence of social media marketing.

So, how can an in-world business use social media (and in particular machinima) in their marketing? Well the first thing is create something you want to watch – preferably multiple times. If you want to watch it then chances are others will too. Don’t make it an advertisement, make it entertainment. The trick is to create content that your customers want to use. And then you need to create avenues for your customers to engage with you. For an in-world business that may be a weekly chat session disguised as a party or some similar event. Get out, have you and your staff meet the people and have them meet you. Enjoy yourself. For an online business, you can always use blogs, forums, virtual worlds or establish a twitter feed. But don’t fall into the trap of using them solely as a push media tool. What you want is to engage your customers and create something they want to come back to repeatedly.

Used well, machinima is a powerful marketing tool. There’s no better way to provide information or to emotionally influence your customers. But it can only ever be part of the solution. To make the most of it you must entertain as well as inform.

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.

He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.

Connect with him on Twitter or Google Plus.
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Post Under Business, Marketing, virtual worlds November 24, 2008
  • The focus of my presentation, and indeed was a part in term for Ariella’s presentation, is Advertainment. A true pull advertising.

    If you believe that machinima is perhaps a waste of time for advertising, then you are perhaps missing one vital part. Community in Second Life extends deep into business as well. If you tried using RL advertising, then that would drive your viewers away from the screen.

    From the many Clients that we have created machinima advertising for, a high percentage have reported an increase in sales and traffic. For designers, we place screens at the point of sale, showing the outfits that they are selling. Long has been the complaint that most advertising 2D pictures are ‘doctored’, whereas the movie advertisiement not only shows greater realistic detail, but how the outfit ‘flows’ during movement. Almost like it is being privately modeled just for them.

    Our own website draws an average of 260,000+ views of our machinima per month. We are Googled, Yahoo’d and AOL’d regularily.

    We believe Advertainment is a greater tool to awareness, which given the nature of the platform, the style of business (community driven) and the micro economy values charged, is a good tool for a large proportion of the SL community.

    Some of our clients are ‘outfacing’ in that they have services and skills that not only fit the Virtual World, but also in Real Life. By developing a series of pull advertainments for them, they have seen greater interest by the Real Life sectors, the key is making the media acceptable to both ‘worlds’, if the skills are transportable.

    With the emphasis of Eco friendly, the digital advertisiment utilising machinima, will gather momentum in the Real World. It will gain its footholds, as the platforms mature and offer a greater range of realism, without the costs associated to creating the whole from scratch (not using VR platforms).
    As the VR platform seeps more and more into RL business arenas as a tool, so will the community aspect of doing business.

  • Just FYI…

    We compare our inworld audience to a small market TV station. Currently SLCN has about 150,000 regular viewers each month. That’s a fairly conservative number which includes both our inworld 24/7 channels as well as web-based viewers and iTunes subscribers. General estimates are that the Second Life world consists of somewhere between 300K to 700K regular dedicated users, and that ends up giving SLCN maybe 30-40% of the viewers in Second Life.

    It’s also worth considering that we stream 8 channels 24/7 plus have two live programming days and produce 15 new shows per week and have been doing that for a year. That is a lot of content and we currently have over 1500 archived shows to rely upon to provide stable, predictable numbers. Our guess is that there are about 25,000 to 100,000 viewing locations in Second Life that support our channels, but that is a broad range because it’s hard to assess how many “SLCN capable” locations there really are due to the way screens and video URLs are used.

    What people watch is primarily up-to-date entertainment. If you watch something on SLCN it is almost always less than 2 weeks old (except for some greatest-hits replays on the music channel). So, people are not seeing things which are stale.

    For the first 6-8 months of operation, we really couldn’t attract advertisers and deliver results to them. But, around March or April, we began getting definite feedback from advertisers that their ads were resulting in direct traffic and sales and we increased our committment to selling ads because I felt we finally had something that would bring people results.

    We also run focus groups where we pay randomly selected SL avvies to watch our stations in a controlled environment. Their feedback helps us make sure the shows are still reasonably entertaining, and so far such viewers believe that the ads themselves are a ‘fun’ element of the programming that makes it look “more real”.

    Notably, about 80% of the inworld viewers watch music, sports, and lifestyle programming. Only about 5% of the people watch business programming. This tells us what I think is obvious: People use Second Life to get away from work, and any impression that there is “business” in Second Life needs to be looked at carefully to consider that many businesses are really just entertaining sidelines for people. Most SL businesses are more like cottage industries, selling hand-crafted items. It’s more of a flea-market than an business economy.

    We have one channel, the “Shopping” channel, which runs continuous ads. But, these are not highly produced. Instead, these are 7 minute segments where the product creator talks about their products and shows them off in infomercial style. This channel is the 5th most watched out of our 8 channels and gets quite a bit of traffic. People who watch it enjoy it as entertainment. They see dedicated people, the content creators, talking about their passions in a fun way, and it reveals a bit of the human side of what being an SL entrepreneur is all about. Naturally, it also brings people to their sims and is probably one of the most effective video mechanisms we’ve introduced.

    Your comments are quite interesting to me and I have been thinking about things like this for a long time. Advertising works if you have a captive audience loyal to the medium and if you put ads in front of people that are relevant to them. That’s why adwords works. In our case, we are in a bit of new territory. We have a loyal audience who enjoys our content, and “tv-like” ads on SLCN are still a content novelty. Over time, we need to assure that more direct ways of connecting business and social groups with products that serve their needs are favored over simple ad placement.

  • @AWM
    I think you have misinterpreted my comments if you feel that I’m saying that machinima is a waste of time as an advertising medium. I say in the last paragraph that I believe it is a powerful marketing tool. However, what I am saying is that using the push media methodology is going to bring limited fiscal ROI.

    With regard to ROI you claim that your clients receive an increase in traffic and sales, however is the additional revenue enough to offset their advertising expenditure plus a profit? You also say a high percentage see a return, but what constitutes high? 90%? 50%? 30%? Do you have any case studies (not just testimonials) that demonstrate the return is worth the investment.

    BTW don’t take that as a personal attack. It’s not supposed to be one and I apologise if it is so construed. As machimators and marketers we need to think outside the box. Sure, most of our clients are peachy keen with their results but as service providers we need to constantly ask ourselves, ‘is there a better way?’. This was the purpose of the article.

    @wiz
    Although 150,000 viewers per month sounds like a lot (at least to a mere mortal such as me =) it is really small bikkies in the broadcasting world. As I stated in the article, our local community tv station was claiming that they were pulling in just under 10 times that in a city of under 2 million. I also presume that’s total views and not unique visitors/viewers. (Are those numbers independently verifiable btw?).

    We have in the past promoted SLCN to our clients but unfortunately the ROI wasn’t high enough for them. We like what you’re doing there, but expect that SLCN -like SL – will continue to evolve. The article was an alternative methodology that could be applied as part of that evolution.

  • I doubt that the community TV numbers are are talking about are real. If so, they are based upon sampling and reach, concepts which do not equate easily to direct measurement such as streaming statistics. There is a huge difference between having programming “potentially” available to viewers vs. having them actually watching it for measurable amounts of time.

    When we started hitting 150K measurable viewers (that’s not hits, that’s distinct people), we began for the first time getting interest from real advertisers who also deal with mainstream broadcasters. Some of them revealed some confidential numbers about mainstream TV media that surprised me. They said that actual viewership of several mainstream shows was no more than 5000 – 10,000 viewers in the Melbourne marketplace (over 2M viewers). Now, their published figures may say they are reaching millions because, in theory, millions of people could just happen to have their sets turned on. This is the fallacy that a world of “sampling” has given us and why in many cases web numbers which sound low are actually more significant than actual audiences in sampled marketplaces, especially considering that 80% of our viewers watch 80% of an entire show (yes, that means that 80% of the people are, in general watching 45 minutes of Tonight Live, not just clicking and leaving).

    Articles such as this (http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/6774) also point out why it is not in the interests of media companies to create better metrics. Their declining numbers are nothing to be proud of, and the long history of sampled media measurement is no longer applicable when we are in a world where we can measure precisely what people are watching, when, and even make good guesses as to why (referrers, land locations, etc. are a good giveaway to what kind of audience is visiting our content and what their motivation).

    It is surely true that prime-time television programming and sports reaches a vastly larger audience than we can hope for, but that is the exception for many stations. It is far more common for shows at “less than ideal” timeslots to garner remarkably low market penetration, to the point where our small numbers are actually a better target for reaching certain demographics.

    That is not to say advertising is the answer. But, mainstream media is in a shrinking market where there is little or no innovation in trying connect people with products. The online video market, by contrast, is small but growing, and attracts the interest of those looking forward instead of back. There is much more energy being invested in monetizing online media and clear evidence that the existing real-world media markets are going away and being replaced by methods which deliver better results. The key is not relying upon the model but rather measuring effectiveness of results.

  • Forgot…
    “Are those numbers independently verifiable btw?”

    There is no independent metric for this type of thing, and that is a shame. We publish monthly reports to our producers but those are confidential.

    It’s not because we have something to hide, it’s because of the following reasons…

    a) We have 5 streaming servers and 2 webservers. All in all, there are millions of hits a month on all combined. Filtering that down, eliminating errors and duplicates is itself an error prone process. Many of the hits are errors, and many of the web hits are unrelated to media viewing. We measure only delivery of media files to unique viewers, and rely upon some less-than-ideal stats programs. If we tell people hits, it will be a gross exaggeration and advertisers would be wary because their expectations would be greater than the results we can deliver. At present, there is no simple spreadsheet that takes all that data and arrives at the number I gave you. It is a good guess.

    b) In a world with no standards, we are up against many people who release “the highest number their stats program displays” and call it fact. That would be about 3 million per month for us, a meaningless number that contains lots of garbage. But, Metanetwork Media made wild claims that they were reaching 2 million residents. Most people make wild claims, it’s marketing. So, unless everybody agrees to use audited metrics (such as circulation for the print industry) publishing our numbers does us a disservice because who knows what to believe?

    c) Different shows are at different phases of development. Some shows have problems and need work. We discuss this with our producers and use numbers to work on the quality and audience appeal of shows. If we started publishing those numbers, shows might be disadvantaged by having the public reach conclusions that aren’t valid (new shows often take 2 months before they become popular, some never do). I’d rather have our numbers driven by audience requirements rather than public relation requirements, so we keep them to ourselves and our various production teams.

    I think ultimately the YouTube/Blip model is the answer, where metrics are available to all and there is a single mediator. But, there isn’t much motivation for us (and major media) to start putting all our shows on blip and revealing highly detailed numbers. If we believe in a show, we will work on it even if it’s not doing well for a while. I don’t want the public slamming it because it doesn’t get many hits when we really have much to do to get it where we want.

  • @Wiz:

    The figures for the community station are broadcast ratings that came from the independent entity, OzTam – the equivalent of the Nielsen ratings. So yes, they’re sampling and reach numbers but all broadcast ratings are. The key is that they’re collected and collated by an independent body. They have become a standard and businesses small and large accept them as legit.

    I keep hearing that mainstream media companies are about to die. It has become a popular meme amongst social media proponents. While the economic unpleasantness holds few certainties for anyone, one only has to look at most of the media company profit and loss statements to see that while they are feeling pain they are still reaping the big bucks. And they’re still able to pull in millions of viewers per show, not per month but per half-hour in some cases. So, while 150k sounds like a lot, compared to broadcast media it’s not even in the same league. Also, you have to remember that any slow-down in FTA viewer numbers has been offset by the uptake of PayTV.

    While I am an advocate for social media and I feel that there are lots of opportunities for SME and corporations to utilise social media to their benefit, I am not someone who feels that the MSM is about to keel-over and die, with the exception of hardcopy newspapers. My reasoning is that there is simply no replacement for most of the MSM. Not to their advertisers and certainly not to their viewers. And sure some of their viewers will torrent their shows thereby reducing their revenue, but they still watch them. Until that changes, until there is a replacement – like online news outlets and blogs have essentially replaced the hardcopy newspaper – the MSM are likely to dominate for a while longer.

    So bringing it back to the original point in the article, if outlets like SLCN don’t have the necessary reach (and I’m not saying if they do or don’t it’s hard to say without applying it to a specific case) then we as marketers and machinimators need to adapt our product so that it does. And one of the best ways to do that is to entertain rather than advertise.

  • I actually agree with you, so I didn’t mean to be to appear otherwise. I also agree that mainstream media isn’t about to die, but I do believe that advertisers are shifting their spend away from traditional media (Edison Research in the USA had very compelling figures for this years ago).

    The main reason for this is that audience significance simply isn’t a “numbers only” game, and targeted content doesn’t work very well in sampled markets. For example, if I have a podcast watched by 90% of US Senators regularly, it probably doesn’t matter that I only have 1000 viewers. Similarly, I doubt that spending money on CNN is the easiest way to reach people interested in virtual worlds (or many other special interests), and it probably makes sense to for many advertisers to have their money spent on channels which reach their market in a more predictable and cost-effective way.

    Forget about SLCN for the moment and just consider whether having 10000 viewers who are the RIGHT viewers is more important than having a million viewers with uncertain demographics. I think these are the benefits that social media often has, and it really depends very heavily on what advertisers want.

    The “entertainment” angle does work in a flooded market where you have to differentiate strongly. But, if you are the only channel available to a specific market (the most popular podcast for divorce lawyers, for example), the need to entertain goes down significantly and the value of the content is judged across different axes.

    I don’t mean to prolong the discussion and didn’t mean to imply that I was disagreeing, far from it. There is nothing I believe more strongly than the notion that you have to provide people with things they want to watch, not shove things in front of them just because you want them to see it. I was more intending to add useful information.

  • I agree with all your points except that I don’t see the ‘entertainment’ angle as a mere strange attractor. I feel it is just simply a better avenue for promotion. The best commercials always provide some degree of entertainment, and even in a focused market there should be a strong employment of entertainment as a strategy. The reason is simple – people don’t like didacticism. And you only have a small period of time in which to engage the audience. You can’t predict if a major war has just broken out and the senators have their minds on that. Making an ad entertaining gives you a better chance they’ll not only remember it but engage again and again.

  • Hi Skribe,
    Nothing personal taken 🙂
    One thing that we use and I know SLCN also use, is the Silver Stream system, this gives us more than simple hit stats, as found on most hosting server plans. It gives a better defined set of stats. Metrics that can distinguish between a new viewer and a return viewer. It is interesting to see the growth patterns of both new and return viewers. Retainment of viewers is powerful, it can benchmark not just the popularity of a particular show/movie, but the browsing habbits in other sections.

    I gave another short presentation recently, which spoke of the power of what I call Advertainment, based upon some recent commercials that we have produced, using the pull method.

    I believe there is a misconception that there is no balance between costs for producing a machinima commercial and or programme, and the potential ROI. There are designers/creators in SL that will spend around 300kL$ a month on classifieds. Our commercials range between 25-70kL$ dependant on resources used and content. On average we charge 6kL$ every 3 months, to host and stream that into SL, on our website, and give the html links so they can be posted on websites, blogs and even in profiles.

    Some subject matter has a greater lifespan than others, therefore ROI may take time to fully realise. The traffic measuring in SL is somewhat distorted and confusing. Increase in sales is unreliable to a certain extent, if the advertising is done over a broad spectrum of media, when trying to ascertain exact ROI with any singular media. If presented well, less spontanous purchasers, may increase ROI, which may not be attributed to any given media.
    However, given the correct balance, and the right planned approach, machinima can and does form, a good core method for investment in advertising. I believe that machinima has its place in colaboration with other forms of advertising, building brand awareness, utilising ‘memory keys’ (how many of us could just hear the jingle and know its a Coca Cola advert on the TV even though we cannot see the screen?), is in my mind, Advertainment :¬)

    • I don’t think it matters what system you use but unless the metric is independently verifiable why would anyone trust those numbers? Preferably the key metrics should be freely available and their algorithms open and documented. After all, what have you got to hide?

      Numbers don’t mean much if they’re the wrong demographic and not bringing in new business. Too often the marketing plan consists of ‘make a video and put it up on YouTube’ or wherever. Sure you may get an awesome number of views but unless they’re buying what you’re selling it’s a vanity project not a well-executed marketing strategy. Unless the strategy is specific, measurable, achievable and complimentary to your business you’re wasting your time.

      Machinima as an advertising medium only works if it’s seen by the right people. The problem is that there is still no broadcast distribution channel in Second Life. SLCN is an attempt but its numbers are unverified and even the ones they admit to are paltry given the population. For most businesses in SL that’s simply not enough likely ROI by itself. Therefore, we as machinimators need to be smarter, so we can provide the necessary options to improve our clients’ ROI. One of the ways to do this is by opening up new channels and one of the ways to do that through making the machinima pull media rather than push.

      I’ll be covering other ways during a lecture I’ll be giving soon – once bub is born and I can lock in some times.

      As always, thanks for your comment.