Pontiac Drives Into Second Life

NEW YORK General Motors is the latest marketer to set up shop in Second Life, buying land in the virtual world in the hopes of encouraging users to build a car culture there with the offer of free virtual real estate.

Pontiac said in late November it would set up Motorati Island, a 96-acre plot in Second Life, to sell virtual versions of the Pontiac Solstice GXP, host virtual performances by entertainers at the Pontiac Garage music stage in Times Square and stage races on a track it will build. Pontiac also hopes to tap into Second Life’s user-creativity vibe by inviting its 1 million residents to submit proposals to build on the island. Pontiac is requiring the building proposals further car culture in Second Life.

“Right now there isn’t a car culture in Second Life, but we know there’s a huge car culture with human beings,” said Tor Myhren, executive creative director at Leo Burnett in Detroit, Pontiac’s ad agency. “Certainly there’s going to be one there and we want to be part of it.”

Second Life is a small but growing 3-D virtual world, where users create online personas, or avatars, and build structures in a fantasy environment where flying over buildings is par for the course. While Second Life now boasts more than 1 million residents, about half have visited in the last 30 days and 10,000-15,000 tend to be in the environment at the same time. The virtual environment has grown quickly, about 20 percent per month.

Second Life does not treat marketers differently. Like other residents, Pontiac bought real estate for the island from Second Life creator Linden Lab, paying about $7,500, according to the Linden Lab price list.

Pontiac next month will solicit land proposals at MotoratiLife.com, launching the island with an event in Second Life and the real world. Myhren said it would choose proposals for car-relation creations that would draw visitors to the island, like a drive-in theater showing auto movies or a bumper-car ride.

Sensing a new opportunity to engage customers, several marketers have entered Second Life to hawk their wares, including Wells Fargo, American Apparel and Nissan. Last week, Starwood opened the virtual outpost for Aloft, its new hotel brand, hosting a virtual party with an appearance by singer Ben Folds.

Leo Burnett and branded entertainment shop Campfire led the Motorati Island initiative, with help from Second Life developer Millions of Us and Web shop Domani Studios. Burnett is no stranger to Second Life: Last month, it created a presence there, dubbed Leo Ideas Hub, for its creatives’ avatars to meet and show off work.

Myhren said Pontiac hopes to fit in with the culture of Second Life better than other advertiser efforts, using its island to showcase resident creations rather than simply to showcase the brand. It also took care to cede control to users over the cars, allowing them to customize them however they wish.

“What we’re trying to do is go far beyond a press release saying we’re on Second Life,” he said. “We want to connect with the people there.”