Mazda Concept Gets Second Life

Back in November I wrote an entry about Nissan entering Second Life (reLink) and how they were being compared to a virtual world competitor… and effectively getting their butt kicked. I wrote a long draft for that entry but it was taking too much time to finish off; there were lots of things to discuss and I was too busy to do it justice. The gist of that draft, before I stripped it to nothing and posted the result, was that it appeared Nissan was trying to use Second Life as a marketing platform (for their real world Sentra) and not as a brand-building platform (and the article I read yesterday about Nissan’s real world situation {Sorry… link has died.} suggests they could use some help in that department). In any event, I thought theirs was a mostly worthless idea because, as some of you know, I’ve been arguing for some time that SL isn’t ready for marketing primetime and shouldn’t be treated like other media. Furthermore, people – most especially people immersed in these virtual environments – don’t aspire to own an “average Joe” car; they aspire to own luxury cars, tricked out street racers, customized hot rods… and the concept cars that the automotive manufacturers show but almost never mass produce.

Now Nissan has a long and rather distinguished history in the concept car department. They’re the kinds of vehicles – taken from their real world history – that could build their brand in a compelling way. My thought was that they could have modeled those and placed them inside Second Life (and I’d have argued that they should limit quantities instead of rezzing seemingly unlimited stocks – as they do with their Sentra’s – which actually devalues the brand; Motorola would probably agree). Only instead, they chose to plunk a virtual version of a regular old car into the anything’s-possible virtual world. Go figure.

So anyway, as I’ve already said, I ripped out most of that entry and left almost nothing… except a hint in the title. It wasn’t a big deal because as I said then, I knew I’d be talking about this again. In fact, as it turned out, I talked a little about it in the comments of that post (reLink) where I had to explain what I meant by “Urge”. Thing is, I was explaining the idea of using the Nissan Urge concept (a car which doubles as a gaming console) to the people behind the Nissan-Second Life project – the Electric Sheep Company – when it should have been Nissan’s marketing people explaining it to them. Nissan knows their brand history and the reputation they have in the concept car department better than anyone. I wouldn’t expect ESC to know any of that. This is why I suspect Nissan approached ESC and told them what they wanted to do: use Second Life as a 3D commercial for a real world product. To market in Second Life in essentially the same manner in which they market on television. To think of the virtual vehicle not as a product, but as a limitlessly-reproducible commercial whose only value is in helping to sell something else. In fact, I suspect Nissan may even have paid for the effort from a “Sentra marketing budget”. If so, good luck getting the Sentra team to build a Gobi concept in order to do something as seemingly selfless as raising overall brand awareness. It ain’t gonna happen.

That leads me to a report today over on 3pointD (Link) that Mazda is doing what I thought Nissan should have done: putting a concept vehicle – in this case their latest effort, the Hakaze – inside Second Life. I don’t know who’s behind the Second Life effort {or whether it’s the start of a more savvy approach to brand-building}, but I’m happy to see it. Now we have past and present. I look forward to the future*.

(* That’s another hint – especially for any Industrial Designers reading this)