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Automakers Connect With Hip, Young NETizens

On Motorati Island, Pontiac fanatics can purchase a cherry red Solstice for just 0 and do track tests. There, enthusiasts can also engage in various types of activities like enjoying a drive-in movie after a dance at the club. But Motorati Island is not real. It is a part of a virtual world called Second Life - a pseudo-real world with 2 million inhabitants at present.

Second Life is a three-dimensional online realm where an individual, through a virtual character, can enjoy driving, partying, shopping, exploring the territory and do anything one can do anything else in the real world.

Automakers are opening doors to move closer to the generation Y, who are almost always busy online that they are tagged netizens which actually means “internet citizens”. General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., and other automobile manufacturers are looking forward to connect with the hip and young market. This is the very reason why GM created and introduced the Motorati Island. And the Pontiac brand is among the highlights of said virtual world.

Second Life, created by Linden Lab, has stormed the net via mainstream news media late last year. The downloadable program enables users to interact using avatars. The program provides an excellent environment to socialize and take pleasure in the general aspects of the metaverse.

Second Life, perceived as the next evolution of MySpace, is likened to an online game. However, in general, it does not give points or scores so there are no winners and losers. Nearly everything that exists in the real world exists in Second Life. Moreover, the experience is like an individual portraying a role in a movie. It is similar in a way to computer games like The Sims and Myst. One of the differences though is that the avatars are virtual versions of real people and property costs money. As a fact, million of dollars flow through the virtual world.

The users, called “residents,” can visit the virtual world as if it were real. The virtual currency used in Second Life is Linden dollars. It is convertible to US dollars in real life companies connected to the virtual world. So far, the program has over 3 million accounts. The average age of the “residents” is 32 and 60 per cent of which are males. This demographic is the expanded target market of the automakers.

"Considering growth factors and the demographics involved, Second Life looked like one of those things we needed to be involved with," said Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson. Compared to a single television spot, Pontiac spends far less through Second Life.

"We want Motorati to be a place where, if you're a car enthusiast in Second Life people will say you've got to go to Motorati Island," said Tor Myhren, executive creative director at Leo Burnett Detroit, a Troy advertising firm. Myrhen added it is too soon to tell whether marketing efforts will translate to sales.

"You'll know a few years down the road when someone's buying a car and they check out Pontiac because their first experience with the brand was on this really wicked Web site," he added. "We're looking for an opportunity to speak to people in unusual ways," Myrhen said. "So far we've had a great deal of success."

Andrew Gershoff, a University of Michigan associate marketing professor said, "Relationships with brands are similar to relationships with real people. If I'm a person who likes to explore this online world, it makes me feel good if I have interaction with a brand who shares the same beliefs."

Toyota and Nissan are also part of the Second Life. Scion City touts young generation drivers. "These are buyers we want. Progressive consumers who are always online," said Toyota spokeswoman Ming-Jou Chen. In said Second Life city, “residents” can create a persona of their dreams and blends them with customizable Scions.

Now that more and more automakers are rushing to ride on the virtual reality world, enthusiasts expect a different level of participation and enjoyment. The net is not just around the corner to offer customizable Volvo steering rack, it could do even better.

About the Author: Glady Reign is a 32 year old is a consultant for an automotive firm based in Detroit, Mi. She is a native of the motor city and grew up around cars hence her expertise in the automotive field.

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