Adventures in Advertising


"Picture a box. Not just any box "“ a huge box. A performance art piece, dropped in Central Park and Trafalgar Square and Fisherman's Wharf. People from all over the world will step inside the box. Then they'll explain to a live web camera why their current bank keeps them 'in a box' by offering cookie-cutter products and services. People can tune in online. It will be a viral sensation."

Welcome to advertising in the 21st century.

That's an actual story from an actual meeting I was lucky enough to attend in 2004. This kind of nonsense, where a terrible idea was crowned "viral" by virtue of not being a TV commercial, makes the good ideas shine even brighter.  But "non-traditional" isn't always a euphemism for "bad."

Starwood is opening a new line of loft-style hotels, called aloft. You shouldn't care and probably don't. But rather than just churn out press releases heralding the arrival of more rooms for rent, Starwood decided to simultaneously build a virtual replica in Second Life to generate interest. They piqued mine.

You might be wondering what Second Life is. Sara Van Gorden will explain. She's a developer for The Electric Sheep Company, the folks developing Virtual Aloft.

"Second Life (or 'SL' for short) is, precisely, a virtual world, where you can create literally anything you can imagine. SL has a built-in 3D modeling engine, the ability to upload textures to apply to your 3D creations, a scripting language heavily based on C++ to make your creations functional...and is unique in the fact that the intellectual property rights to your creations are yours and yours alone, not the game company's."

Today Second Life has 280,000 active residents. If you're one of them, you can wander over to see progress on aloft. If you're not, you can follow along via the Virtual Aloft blog.

Starwood has plenty of company in Second Life. You can buy your digital self digital t-shirts at American Apparel. Suzanne Vega recently performed. And the avatar version of Nextel co-founder/Virginia Governor/likely 2008 Presidential candiate Mark Warner stopped by to chat with voters.

As for the performance art box/bank ad, that never materialized. As a result, banks continue to offer cookie-cutter products and services, and the disenchanted banking public has no outlet for their frustration. The man behind the box idea was fired about a month later.