[In a pair of interviews reprinted from sister online world weblog Worlds In Motion, we talk to Coca-Cola VP Carol Kruse and There.com VP Ben Richardson about a deal which will see a Coke-themed online world called CC Metro, including game elements, music mixing, voice chat, and in-world theaters, running on There.com/Makena's tech.]
There.com parent Makena Technologies announced a partnership with Coca-Cola that has migrated the Coke Studios virtual world to the There.com platform, unveiling a new community called CC Metro.
The CC Metro environment will offer activities focused on music, gaming, sports and entertainment, including a hoverboard skate park and a theater presenting Coca-Cola videos. There's also a "music mixer" tool that will let users develop their own music, and users can chat via text or voiceover IP. The avatar characters are called v-egos and are presented in a cute style (as opposed to high realism); add in the isometric 3D look and the package calls Habbo to mind.
Other brands associated with Coca-Cola, like American Idol, NASCAR and the Olympic Games, will also be part of CC Metro. The virtual world will also integrate Coca-Cola's My Coke Rewards online rewards program, allowing users to trade reward points for virtual items at a designated online store in CC Metro. Members can also customize their avatar and obtain property, pets and vehicles using Therebucks, the There.com in-world currency.
The companies say this new virtual environment will initially be focused on U.S. consumers, but may expand to other countries, highlighting the global availability of There.com's platform, which would allow different markets to customize CC Metro for regional consumers.
Worlds in Motion spoke to Carol Kruse, vice president of Global Interactive Marketing at Coca-Cola, about the evolution of MyCoke.com and the new endeavor.
Can you tell us about the previous incarnation of Coke Studios, and why you chose to migrate it into There?
“Coke Studios,” the first Coca-Cola virtual environment originated almost five years ago (January 2002) as CokeMusic.com. Coke Studios is a popular, interactive virtual community where people can connect with each other through personalized avatars. Coke Studios is primarily focused on music related content and activities.
Coke Studios was a pioneer in consumer product virtual environments when it launched, but as the digital world has exploded, virtual worlds have become incredibly sophisticated. Recognizing this, we wanted to take Coke Studios to the next level and create a more life-like, multi-layered experience for our members.
To evolve Coke Studios we needed a digital partner that offered technology and capabilities that we didn’t have. Working with There.com we‘ve built “CC Metro,” a richer, proprietary Coca-Cola virtual experience where people can connect and have fun. There.com’s digital platform offered more flexibility and creativity to develop a more lifelike world through which we can deliver greater and more varied content.
What might you advise from your experience on the benefits of a major brand having its own disparate virtual world as opposed to being part of an existing one?
The answer to this question isn’t really an “either/or” answer. We’ve seen benefits from our own virtual world with Coke Studios, but we also see benefits in joining an existing virtual world. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be launching our new community, CC Metro, within There.com. While we learned a great deal from Coke Studios, moving forward we‘ll see even greater benefits through our virtual world within There.com.
Ultimately we knew we wanted to create a better virtual experience for our members. Bringing together our experience and brand expertise with Makena’s technology and the flexibility and creativity provided through There.com, we think we will have the best of both worlds.
Why does a virtual world presence appeal to Coke right now, and do you see the brand's role in online worlds persisting?
Since we’ve had a virtual world presence for almost five years, it’s not about whether the concept is appealing to Coca-Cola right now. Based on our experience, we already know that virtual worlds can be successful. Our focus for right now is taking the experience we’ve gained with Coke Studios and our marketing expertise and collaborating with a partner, in this case There.com, to take our virtual world to the next level.
And, yes, we see our role in virtual worlds persisting. We’ve had a virtual world presence for almost five years, and we have several other virtual worlds in other countries like Spain. Plus, we’re launching a new and improved virtual world with CC Metro. We think all that speaks to our focus on continuing to use virtual worlds a way to connect our brands with consumers in the digital space.
What made you choose this particular way of integrating with There, as opposed to simply putting, say, Coke vending machines inside the world and rewarding users for using them, or using realistic in-world ads like virtual billboards or video spots?
We have learned from our experience with Coke Studios that a virtual world must be experiential, interactive, offer a variety of activities, and provide people with multiple ways to connect within the community. While more traditional “advertising-type” tactics can deliver a message they don’t provide an experience.
With CC Metro, our focus is on offering an experience rooted in the uplifting, optimistic attitude of the ‘Coke Side of Life,’ which is our core brand focus. Choosing to live on the Coke Side of Life – in the real world or the virtual world -- is choosing fun and CC Metro reflects that attitude.
CC Metro: There.com's Point Of View
Following the recent announcement that Coca-Cola had migrated its brand presence onto There.com's platform, Worlds in Motion spoke to Ben Richardson, vice president of business development at Makena, about why huge brands like Coke -- which has had a virtual world presence since 2002 -- and MTV are so drawn to opportunities in online worlds.
Gaining those both of those heavy-hitters is definitely a big gain for Makena, but we asked Richardson the big question -- what about the users, and their gain? "This is a very large topic of discussion among advertisers," notes Richardson. "The reason there’s so much positive discussion has to do with opportunity. Specifically because virtual worlds are allowing brands to redefine themselves completely by providing new types of experiences around their brands. It's completely immersive and real-time, and that allows the brand to provide any type of compelling user experience that it wants to associate itself with. It becomes anything but advertising."
So the advertiser's goal of providing meaningful interaction associated with their brand presents an opportunity for the platform, also. Both users and advertisers are looking for engagement and a positive experience, and the challenge for virtual worlds like There.com is to provide them to both sides.
Richardson discussed the extensive campaigns that Toyota's Scion has been doing in the There.com world, which he says is a successful example of meeting the needs of advertisers and users at the same time. They built full-sized nightclubs based on the Scion cars, and created activities through which users could customize and present their own art designs on the clubs. "It's a campaign we've been running for almost 6 months, and it's still delivering great numbers to Scion," Richardson says. "That's an example of how a brand can completely redefine how consumers are interacting."
The Beginning Of The Big Migration?
"Coke gets this," Richardson asserts. "Five years ago they launched Coke Studios. They were one of the leaders in the space. And it was very successful, it met their goals at that time, and then they made the decision that they wanted to step to the next level in virtual worlds. They wanted to make it 3D and immersive and introduce new functionality that would let their users do more things in the world."
Richardson feels Makena's partnership with Coke will grab the attention of other advertisers, paving the way for continuing advertiser participation in online worlds. "I think there are a lot of advertisers that are watching the virtual worlds growth rate exponentiate – it’s really growing very significantly – and there are a lot of advertisers out there saying, 'we need to be in there, how do we get in?' Seeing such an establish brand come in not just for a campaign, but acknowledging that virtual words are a core part of their strategy going forward."
Since virtual worlds offer advertisers opportunities to interact directly with their target audience, do they learn from user behavior? "There’s no doubt about it," agreed Richardson. "And there are definitely do’s and don’ts. And there is learning, and it’s not just advertisers learning, it’s everyone -- because our users are telling us what kinds of interaction they respond to."
He continued, "Basically, what we're learning is that advertisers that essentially force their campaign, they don’t give the user a choice to participate in their offering, are ending up with negative awareness, which is not a good thing. And advertisers that don’t spend enough time thinking about a totally unique kind of campaign don’t do as well as advertisers that introduce something completely fresh into the world. What we do know besides that is that brands who have significant cache in the real world absolutely translate into a virtual context."
"We have done a number of case studies that resonate that as well," Richardson added. "So we looked at some past relationships we had with Nike and Levi, and we looked at the value of the virtual Nike shoes we have for sale, and the virtual Levis jacket we have for sale—they're selling for up to $200 for a virtual version of the item. What it tells is us that people who have affinity for these brands want this same identity in the virtual worlds space. And that’s pretty powerful, and this isn’t widely available info because there haven’t been a lot of case studies done for advertisers in the virtual world."
Makena did another case study, following the brand extension that Capitol Music Group built in There.com. Over the course of two months, four artists on the Capitol label -- Korn, Mims, the Beastie Boys and Yellowcard -- participated in in-world events centralized around a designated Capitol Music Club virtual night club, The Tower, in There. "We looked at, over the course of that 2-month period, how much time people spent inside that nightclub. It was 2600 hours total, and when we netted that out to the number of minutes per visit, it netted out to almost 8 minutes per visit. Additionally, the CMG campaign clocked 42,774 visits to interactive kiosks, 17,463 visits to The Tower, 4,363 attendees to four live events, 2,616 hours spent in The Tower and 1,258 pieces of virtual band merchandise sold.
Eight minutes, and all of those numbers -- so what? Is that good? Richardson admits that at first, it was hard to tell, as benchmarks for virtual worlds advertising metrics are still a new idea. But Richardson said he had a place to start, looking at online advertising media provider PointRoll's data from 2006. "We did some research on the average amount of time consumers spend interacting with all the different types online advertising – rich media, surveys, videos, reminders, all those different interstitials, all of the different online ad vehicles. And there were about 30 different kinds -- and within the entire verticle, the average amount of time they spend is 12 seconds. So you've got 12 seconds versus 8 minutes -- that’s like a 6000% increase in the average amount of time that you have per interaction."
That is the absolute underlying key metric that advertisers are understanding, or are starting to understand," Richardson said. "It’s time spent interacting with your brand -- and why is time spent important? Time spent is engagement, and that leads to influence, which ultimately leads to a transaction or a change in brand perception... things like CPMs and click-throughs, those kinds of things are irrelevant in a virtual world. You want to reach as many people as possible, obviously."
[More information about the burgeoning online and virtual world space is available on Gamasutra sister website Worlds In Motion, and at February 2008's Worlds In Motion Summit, held at Game Developers Conference.]