Exit Interview: Questions for Mark Kingdon

MarkKingdon.hires(2).jpg Marketers love to hate Second Life, and Mark Kingdon knows it.

The longtime CEO of Omnicom-owned Organic will soon take over as head of Linden Lab, the developer of the virtual world. Kingdon believes that, given time, many advertisers may return to the virtual world. But he’s less concerned with that than with improving the site’s stability and user experience.

“As the community builds I think brands will take another look at Second Life,” he says. But he quickly adds, “they’ll have to provide something of value. That’s true of any social platform.”

ClickZ caught up with Mark yesterday to learn more about why he made the leap from ad agency to virtual world, and what he hopes will come of it. (Read ClickZ’s accompanying news analysis: Second Life Nabs Organic Chief, Will Brands Return?)

Q. Are you relocating?

A. Yes, I’m relocating to San Francisco. When I first joined Organic in 2001 I spent two years here. I moved because much of Organic’s business was in New York. Now I’ll be in San Francisco in a really cool space in the Levi’s Plaza area, at the other end of Battery.

Q. What are your priorities, and how do you see brands interacting with Second Life in the future?

A. My first priority is going to be ensuring the platform is very stable and scalable. And that we are making the first hour experience for new residents very comfortable and welcoming and giving existing residents the kind of things they need to do to create rich content to connect and transact.

As the community builds I think brands will take another look at Second Life, and will have learned a lot in all of their social computing adventures. If they come back… they’ll have to provide something of value. That’s true of any social platform. Not just Second Life.

But I wasn’t hired with the explicit mission of bringing big brand advertisers in. I was hired for my general management experience and my ability to work with creative, technology and business people.

Q. Do you think brands are shy of Second Life?

A. A lot of brands started experimenting a couple years ago to build for social media platforms. None of them had such a substantial budget that brands walked away wounded in any form, and there were some early successes.

My focus at Second Life is going to be creating a rich and engaging experience for residents. If as a healthy byproduct of that brands see an opportunity to connect with residents and add to the experience, that’s a great thing.

Q. Any changes planned to the business model?

A. The wonderful thing about Second Life is the business model is the experience. Residents buy land, start businesses. They connect, collaborate and transact. The business model for Second Life is nicely aligned with the resident experience, which is gratifying because there are plenty of social media sites [where that’s not the case].

Q. Care to share any reflections on the challenges facing digital agencies today, now that you’re leaving that world?

A. It was so challenging in the early days when our competitors were falling by the wayside every day. The entire industry in 2001 was struggling to survive.

It’s going to be an interesting space to watch in 2008, because digital marketing budgets are finally material to the CMO. Digital marketing’s back in the C-suite as it was in 1999, but for very different reasons.

We’ve been in the midst of a creative renaissance.

Q. I hope so, considering most banner creative still sucks and no one’s frequency-capping in-stream ads.

A. A lot of the formats we still see on the Web are formats that are a decade old. By the way, Organic placed the first ad on hotwired. Our founder thought that was a dubious distinction, but I always thought it was kind of cool.

What we’ve seen is that making an experience and adding sound and motion fundamentally changes the economics and it’s incredibly powerful. You’ll see a lot more experiential digital marketing than you’ve seen in the past.

Q. I gather you’re not too excited about Yahoo’s and AOL’s mission to revolutionize the marketplace for liquid display advertising?

A. Listen, the economics still work. Until the economics stop working, people are going to see display advertising as they have in the past. What you’re going to see is much smarter targeting. Hopefully the relevance of the advertising will go up.

I would never bet against display advertising because it’s going to be incredibly important. But if you’re looking three, four, five years out, the first phase page of the Web was a blank page paradigm. The second phase was adding sound and motion… The third wave is going to be about experiencing the digital world in a third dimension. It’s becoming very possible. That’s where you’re going to see the next wave, and that’s why I joined Second Life.

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