Ad professionals who lead double lives

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | July 11, 2007
Second Life is taking cyberspace by storm, and some professionals in India are beginning to join the party

If you & #BANNER1 & # thought Second Life (, the virtual world created by Linden Labs in the US, was just another networking game, it's time to catch up with the rest of the universe. Second Life is a virtual world "imagined, created and owned by its residents", where almost eight million people lead a virtual life. They can buy property or party at a pub, all in Linden dollars, of course.

While Europeans dominate Second Life - they are 61 per cent of its population - people from the Asia Pacific constitute only 13 per cent, according to comScore. For the kind of creative and freewheeling environment that Second Life allows, one would expect the desi advertising industry to take to it. However, this correspondent had a hard time locating them, even in the real world.

KV Sridhar
KV Sridhar, national creative director of Leo Burnett, is a strong proponent of the virtual life. Sridhar joined Second Life as a citizen about a year ago, and he is fascinated by it. "It took me a couple of months to explore the place. I love visiting the Idea House where people get together to share creative ideas," he says. In fact, Leo Burnett (US) has a virtual agency in Second Life, and Sridhar is trying to set up Leo Burnett India there, too, which would make it the first Indian agency to do so.

The agency has even pitched Second Life to clients - the site has a lot of international brands, from GM to Gucci. However, it has only received a lukewarm response from advertisers, who probably do not want to experiment in a region they do not understand.

Another Second Life enthusiast from the Indian creative fraternity is Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, Neo@Ogilvy. Mohanachandran, in fact, has two 'entities' in Second Life - one is a white male and the other is an Indian male. Though he is having fun exploring, he talks about the dark side, too. "People are making racist speeches on Second Life," he says, adding that he will report this to Linden Labs, which has strict rules against such behaviour. Nevertheless, Mohanchandran is on Second Life to explore business opportunities, but he would not suggest it as an advertising option yet. "It is all right as a media innovation, but Indians do not have the mass," he adds.

Kiran Khalap, founder of ad agency Chlorophyll, has had a better response with clients. "We have two large clients (from the FMCG and finance sectors) who are very excited about Second Life." He adds that his agency is developing ideas for them. Personally, he thinks Second Life is a good place to "observe sociological phenomena". Khalap is not a regular on Second Life, but remains an ardent believer.

However, not everyone we spoke to is fascinated. Amitav Misra, an advertising professional who has headed creative teams in Publicis India and Lowe, says, "I have not had the time to spend on Second Life. It is a good place to exchange information, but I have not had many fruitful results."

Ironically, none of the people interviewed had ever come across another Indian on Second Life. There are many deterrents to Indians getting into Second Life. For one, it requires investment in a high quality video card and a broadband connection, which do not come cheap. Another factor is that it costs money to survive in Second Life. Currently, one US dollar buys you 250 Linden dollars. Everything from clothes to a place to stay costs money. "Indians are not used to paying for virtual things. Also, Indians are not very passionate about virtual worlds," adds Mohanachandran. Reports of racism could be another discouraging factor, which may lead Indians to hide their real identities.

Hacking, blackmailing and threats are as prevalent in Second Life as they are in the world as we know it. "The perception is that Second Life is for a young generation of narcissistic individuals, but I am eager to see what it ends up being," adds Khalap.

And that's the way it is for the rest of us. For now, neither advertisers nor the minds that think for them are gung-ho about Second Life, with a few exceptions. Maybe when Sridhar sets up his agency there, we can expect some action!

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