In an age where there is never enough time for the new-new thing (nor, sadly, even enough time to read the New New Thing), millions of people who are perfectly happy with their ordinary, everyday lives as teachers, poets and big band leaders are somehow finding the time to try on what it’s like to be someone else. Didn’t get into med school and want to experience the drama and pressure of a ten-hour operation? Now you can be a brain surgeon, ophthalmologist and general practitioner all rolled into one. Can’t run a 5 minute mile to pass the fire fighter’s exam? Now you can save children from burning buildings without fear of blowback, collapsing floors, or dying from smoke inhalation. Want to effortlessly be taller, stronger, better looking, and better paid (e.g., Fabio) — while traveling the globe making friends and drinking mojitos? Now, you can be all these things with the click of a mouse, courtesy of Second Life.
And not only can you be what you want to be, you can buy what you want to buy. A multitude of businesses have set up shop within virtual worlds to sell in-game versions of their products, including, by way of example, Nike, Dell, American Apparel, Coca Cola, Reebok, and Toyota. A virtual Scion (the automobile) costs about 350 Linden dollars in Second Life, which at today’s exchange rate equates to $1. At Reebok stores in Second Life, you can buy a new pair of tennies for your avatar and then click through to the real world and have the identical sneakers delivered to your home in Neverland, Kansas the next day.
How do you find such virtual goodies, pray tell? Oh, they’re advertised. Really. Just like in real life. In fact, companies as diverse as Adidas, Sun, and the NBA have purchased virtual headquarters in Second Life from which to promote their intangible goods. Coca-Cola owns a virtual concert hall bearing its name (“Coca-Cola Pavilion”), Wells Fargo bought its own virtual island with TARP money, and Gibson Guitar runs an island where it hands out free guitars. In a realm where you can literally create an island out of nothing, owning your own genetically-enhanced land of milk and honey is no longer a dream, but a (virtual) reality. You can even grow money trees in your orchard, which will thoroughly confuse your pre-teens about the nature of finance.
Some of the recent highlights of marketing in the virtual world are intensely silly, though no sillier than one might expect when marketing executives try to capitalize on something they don’t quite understand. Thus, variously, MTV offered free virtual replicas of celebrity accessories and fashion items to encourage people to watch the 2010 MTV Video Awards show; H&M showcased its new denim collection and offered online discounts to purchase the jeans at your local mall; and Colgate has reps handing out free software coupons at metro kiosks which will — if uploaded — brighten your avatar’s smile into Sinatra-like brilliance.
Other items of interest: Coca-Cola billboards litter the virtual highways, as Coke apparently thinks the world needs to be reminded of its existence. Herman Miller ran a “Get Real” campaign offering to replace knock-off Aeron chairs that users had purchased (for their virtual internet startups) with official virtual Aeron chairs. If this sounds as odd to you as it did to me, then realize that counterfeiters have invaded Second Life, and are hawking fake Rolexes and Coach bags on every street corner as we speak. (“Hey, buddy, come take a look at this Bose sound system. It fell off of a truck *nudge* *nudge* *wink* *wink*”).
I would love to expound further upon the odd factoids of Second Life, but for now I leave you with one final oddity: the USPTO has granted a trademark registration to the avatar of a woman who uses it as her alter-ego in Second Life to sell custom-built structures, including, inter alia, islands. That’s right, you heard it. The USPTO has trademarked a . . . real estate broker!
And you thought trademarks had to be unique.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.