5 Get yourself a (second)

5 Get yourself a (second) life

You can race around Pontiac’s test track, check out NBC’s Christmas tree in a re-creation of Rockefeller Center or experience MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach episodes. Companies of all stripes are trying to figure out how to leverage the popularity of online virtual society Second Life. The venue has its own in-game currency (bought with real-world dollars), and an assortment of companies (including agencies) have invested in its real estate this year. One of the first marketers to move in, Starwood Hotels established a virtual prototype of its new Aloft Hotels chain there in September and is using the Linden Lab site’s estimated 1 million members as a virtual focus group before launching the boutique line. The chain also created an accompanying blog so consumers can weigh in on the new hotel’s layout and color scheme, and the company plans to use the suggestions in shaping the real-world hotels, which are expected to launch in 2008—complete with Wi-Fi access and flat-screen TVs.