Branding VW’s (Stardoll’s Stars & Coke’s Choice & Gopet’s woe)

Digitally savvy German supermodel Heidi Klum launched a “Real Celebrity” page on girls virtual site Stardoll.com. Users can use their Stardollars to enhance their MeDoll’s wardrobe with items from the Heidi Klum Runway Collection.

Cynthia Turner’s Cynopsis – Cyn Digi 12/11/07

That’s a pretty rockin’ score there, Stardoll!  Heidi Klum?  Well done!  Stardoll, a teen (with correct tween compliance), has really stepped forward as a leading site for smart branding ideas in this virtual environment.  They’ve managed to get some great brands and make a rockin’ lifelike-ish Avatar system (personally, they’re second to my favorite– girlsense.com‘s avatar). 

They’re leading the way for biz dev & virtual dress up experiences (In my opinion they’re way in front of Coke & Second Life, etc– because they know the play pattern they’re working for, it’s a singular idea “dress up” and they’re catering specifically to it, instead of the free-for-all mayhem of there.com & second life communities).

Which brings me to a second point… or rant, I should say.  I signed up for Coke’s there.com virtual world and was immediately insulted (BTW: NOT A VIRTUAL WORLD FOR THE U13 SET).  Not only did i have to DOWNLOAD it, but then– if I wanted to do ANY avatar customization I had to BUY IT.  Boooo!  They gave me a “complimentary” 1000 points, but when I went to go change my hair (MY HAIR!) it cost 4000.  Wait a tick!  How am I supposed to feel welcome in this virtual world if they won’t even let me be myself (lol– look myself, same deal).

So then I went to go play games to earn points, and I was prompted to PAY with in-world credits– so right off the bat… this brand that I went to support… who constantly shoves coke ads in my face in this world is then PROMPTING me to buy credit RIGHT AWAY?  No lulling?  No sweet talking and coercing?  Who knew I’d be a big supporter of lulling and coercing? 

You know who else does this?  Gopets.com– which bugs me to start since it LOOKS like it was created to compete with littlestpetshop.com (VW) and Webkinz, etc.  It’s straight up kiddy & tween-friendly aesthetics when it’s for the over 13 crowd.  Thankfully they do a decent job trying to keep the little ones out (they cookie kids who put U13 ages and don’t allow to try the age thing again).  They not only tried to make me PAY to play the games, but also DOWNLOAD the games individually– wtf?  Talk about invading my personal bubble.  I’ll download a huge program (begrudgingly) if I trust that I’ll enjoy it (except in Coke’s case– i didn’t enjoy it).  But be expected to download a series of games separately that run through one hub?  Boooo!  No thank you.  Snood tried to make me do that back in the late 90’s.  I’d rather just go play games at Neopets or addictinggames.com or some other casual gaming site.  I don’t want all that crap on my computer– especially if it’s for a site that makes me PAY in microbuys to do anything.  Boo, I say!  You’ve insulted me off the bat. 

Back to Coke’s VW… As a new user I was offended that I’d have to give my hard earned money to venture around this world that is a support system to a brand that wants me to buy in real life.  And where was the trust?  I didn’t feel any sort of “homeyness” to the coke world– especially no love to pull out the wallet and fire up the credit card. 

I felt like saying “Hell no.  You asked me here and this is how you repay me?”  Back in the day– we were a coca-cola family.  My dad’s dad ran a drug store in a wee blue collar town in Central Illinois– and THEY were a coca-cola drug store (signs on the walls, in the fountain, kept crates, etc).  Pepsi?  Tut tut.  Never in OUR fridge.  If it weren’t for college soccer & killing my enthusiasm for pop of all sorts– I’d still be a coca-cola supporter.  So, being the appreciater-of-new-media-and-my-old-fav-brands, I thought, hey!  This is great!  I’ll go check out Coke’s VW.  Good on them!
And then KABAAM!  I didn’t see anything that proved the branded world would SUPPORT and encourage brand evangelism.  Nothing that hinted at fun & fondness– just “Download this huge HUGE app onto your computer so we can have a foot in your doorway at all times, and once you’ve done that we’ll need you to open that wallet and dish out the dough to do anything here– and by anything, we mean– short of “running” and occasional creepy chats– nothing.”  Total Zwinktopia (bah! Browser lurkers!).

Has anyone noticed that the VW’s that are REALLY working and successful are the ones with a bit more point to them then “running and talking”?  Casual gaming & VW’s are twinsies these days.  Hand in hand.  Sure, there are limitations to encourage subscription & microbuys.  But rarely do you have one without the other. 

I’d rather hang out in places with a bit more activity, leeway, and choice– where I am supported by the brand FIRST before supporting the brand in return. 

It’s like this:

  1. Brand Invite
  2. Users Arrive
  3. Brand offers adapting experience (go ahead and make it feel like home)
  4. User engages in adapting experience
  5. Brand offers limited entertaining angle (keep the user wanting to come back)
  6. User enjoys the entertaining angle (in limitations, of course– keep ’em wanting more)
  7. Brand draws line and offers opportunity for extended entertainment with payment
  8. Users pay for extended entertainment
  9. Brand gets paid
  10. Users become members
  11. Brand scratches the back of the community (members), growing & changing
  12. Users become committed (and supporters of brand… maybe even evangelists)

Pirates of the Caribbean Online did this– and I bought in without regret.  And after buying a subscription to POTCO, I went and bought the 3rd movie– and I wasn’t a particularly big fan of movie 2 or movie 3 (movie #1, The Curse of the Black Pearl = brilliance incarnate).  But I bought it, thinking to myself (oooo I can play the game and jump into the world!  It’s going to be a piratey weekend).  And it was.

I– by general behavior– am a brand supporter.  I buy the toys & the books & see the movies in multiples & talk about them when I’ve had a bit too much to drink like these brands are my friends (oh, the story I could tell from a few years back with the Diana Gabaldon book series about Scotland, being in Scotland, and having one too many Scotches).  So, to offend someone whose very nature is to support a brand?  Tut tut.  Not a good sign.

I’m interested to see how many others had the same gut reaction… and how well Coke will do with this new scheme.  They’ve been great so far with their branding in OTHER’S virtual worlds.  Can they pull it off in their own?  Thoughts?

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