WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.08
How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life
For months, Michael Donnelly
had been hearing all about the fantastic opportunities in Second
As worldwide head of interactive marketing at Coca-Cola, Donnelly was fascinated by its
commercial potential, the way its users could wander through a computer-generated 3-D
environment that mimics the mundane world of the flesh. So one day last fall, he downloaded the
Second Life software, created an avatar, and set off in search of other brands like his own.
American Apparel, Reebok, Scion — the big ones were easy to find, yet something felt wrong:
"There was nobody else around." He teleported over to the Aloft Hotel, a virtual prototype for a
real-world chain being developed by the owners of the W. It was deserted, almost creepy. "I felt
like I was in
Yet Donnelly decided to put money into Second Life anyway. He's no digital naïf: When he
joined Coke last summer, the company was being ridiculed for its huffy response to a spate of
Web videos showing the soda geysers that erupt when you drop Mentos into Diet Coke. Within
weeks, Donnelly had Coke and Mentos sponsoring a contest on Google Video that's gotten more
than 5.6 million views. But Second Life was different. "Many places you go, there's still nobody
there," he concedes. That's certainly the case with Coke's Virtual Thirst pavilion, where you can
long linger without encountering another avatar. "But my job is to invest in things that have never
been done before. So Second Life was an obvious decision."
As with Donnelly and Coca-Cola, so with David Stern and the National Basketball Association.
Stern, who's been NBA commissioner since 1984, was introduced to Second Life in July 2006, at
the annual media and technology retreat hosted by New York investment banker Herbert Allen in
Sun Valley, Idaho. Second Life's creator, Philip Rosedale, was one of the presenters, as was Chad
Hurley, cofounder of YouTube, another company Stern had never heard of. "My initial
impression was, 'Don't people have better things to do with their lives?' Then I said, 'Stupid!
You're not the audience.'"
Stern left Sun Valley convinced he'd seen the future, and he was about half right. YouTube has
become a powerful tool for pro basketball. The site's NBA channel, launched in February, has
already garnered some 14,000 subscribers; users have posted more than 60,000 NBA videos,
which have been viewed 23 million times. But over at Second Life, where an elaborate NBA
island went up in May, the action has been a bit slower. "I think we've had 1,200 visitors," Stern
reports. "People tell us that's very, very good. But I can't say we have very precise expectations.
We just want to be there."