Buying Into Faketown

Typical of such trends, marketers currently have some very mixed feelings about Second Life. While some are still enchanted and gearing up for the Second Life Marketing conference where they’ll learn how to advertise in a virtual world, others doubt its immediate value and call into question the “lemming-like” effect it’s had on major brands.

What we need is a way to experiment with virtual worlds on a smaller, less costly, less vested level. One place to start is in Faketown.

Primarily a graphical chat application with elements of social networking and 2-D gaming akin to The Sims, Faketown offers users much of what they’d find on Facebook, YouTube, and Habbo Hotel — just all in one place. In addition to both a Fake I.D. and a Real I.D. (comparable to social networking profiles), each user has a dedicated “property” that acts as home base while their avatars navigate a virtual globe, chatting with a collection of friends as they go.

That property can be enhanced and even fully transformed using any number of tools, including Faketown-provided building blocks, user-generated photo and video assets uploaded to the site, and virtual items purchased in the Faketown online store. Properties that begin as a humble abode can end up a subway station or skateboard shop, all by virtue of owner’s creativity.

Faketown initially launched six years ago as a way for a group of multi-user world developers to showcase their abilities to potential clients, before it was branded a virtual world in 2006. Ironically, the site now showcases its users abilities (they number about 800,000). Growing entirely by word-of-mouth, Faketown has found its niche with teens and young adults, with 85 percent falling between the ages of 15 and 22. They spend an average 25 minutes on the site, while very active users have known to engage for upwards of several hours.

Like Second Life, Faketown offers numerous forms of advertising. There are traditional ad placements such as banners that run within user profiles, and virtual billboards into which ads are streamed which users can place on their properties.

The incentive for doing so comes in the form of more fake money, which property owners can earn for every 100 unique avatars that pass by the billboard. Soon, Faketown intends to allow users to select the ads their billboards display, creating an opportunity for this brand-loyal and influential audience to show their support for the products they buy offline.

Like most user-generated and social media sites of the moment, Faketown is also open to more integrated marketing programs, like that created for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). As one of Faketown’s first major advertisers, the organization created a branded store to raise awareness about carbon emissions and its Climate Change project among teens.

Users could purchase fake trees for their property which grew over time, emitting more oxygen into the fake world. The user whose trees produced the most oxygen output in Faketown’s environment won an exclusive Panda avatar, while the WWF was able to raise much-needed funds for its environmental effort. According to Faketown, 2,000 trees were sold within the first two weeks of the campaign.

CPG advertisers and retailers may prefer to create fake versions of their branded products for users to collect, something Faketown is also open to doing. Quantities will be kept low, Faketown says, to increase demand.

Because Faketown is new, relatively small, and entirely 2D, the site has been able to keep marketing costs low; a marketing investment might run a few thousand dollars, instead of the hundreds of thousands tied to some virtual world campaigns. Campaigns also tend to be easy to manage. Those with branded properties can send out virtual representatives at peak hours to interact with Faketown consumers and monitor comments, much the same way companies dispense moderators to industry forums and message boards. But campaigns like the WWF’s essentially run themselves and require much less ongoing management.

From a marketing perspective, virtual worlds are far from being tapped. Our budgets, however, may be. For affordable exploration and experimentation, it’s time for youth marketers to plan a visit to Faketown.

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