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The effectiveness of marketing communication within the immersive environment

Queensland University of Technology
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  • Immersion
  • Immersive Environments
  • Second Life
  • Product Placement
  • Online Product Placement
  • Communication


Immersive environments are part of a recent media innovation that allow users to become so involved within a computer-based simulated environment that they feel part of that virtual world (Grigorovici, 2003). A specific example is Second Life, which is an internet-based, three-dimensional immersive virtual world in which users create an online representation of themselves (an avatar) to play games and interact socially with thousands of people simultaneously. This study focuses on Second Life as an example of an immersive environment, as it is the largest adult freeform virtual world, home to 12 million avatars (IOWA State University, 2008). Already in Second Life there are more than 100 real-life brands from a range of industries, including automotive, professional services, and consumer goods and travel, among others (KZero, 2007; New Business Horizons, 2009). Compared to traditional advertising media, this interactive media can immerse users in the environment. As a result of this interactivity, users can become more involved with a virtual environment, resulting in prolonged usage over weeks, months and even years. Also, it can facilitate presence. Despite these developments, little is known about the effectiveness of marketing messages in a virtual world context. Marketers are incorporating products into Second Life using a strategy of online product placement. This study, therefore, explores the perceived effectiveness of online product placement in Second Life in terms of effects on product/brand recall, purchase intentions and trial. This research examines the association between individuals’ involvement with Second Life and online product placement effectiveness, as well as the relationship between individuals’ Second Life involvement and the effectiveness of online product placement. In addition, it investigates the association of immersion and product placement involvement. It also examines the impact of product placement involvement on online product placement effectiveness and the role of presence in affecting this relationship. An exploratory study was conducted for this research using semi-structured in-depth interviews face-to-face, email-based and in-world. The sample comprised 24 active Second Life users. Results indicate that product placement effectiveness is not directly associated with Second Life involvement, but rather effectiveness is impacted through the effect of Second Life involvement on product placement involvement. A positive relationship was found between individuals’ product placement involvement and online product placement effectiveness. Findings also indicate that online product placement effectiveness is not directly associated with immersion. Rather, it appears that effectiveness is impacted through the effect of immersion on product placement involvement. Moreover, higher levels of presence appear to have a positive impact on the relationship between product placement involvement and product placement effectiveness. Finally, a model was developed from this qualitative study for future testing. In terms of theoretical contributions, this study provides a new model for testing the effectiveness of product placement within immersive environments. From a methodological perspective, in-world interviews as a new research method were undertaken. In terms of a practical contribution, findings identified useful information for marketers and advertising agencies that aim to promote their products in immersive virtual environments like Second Life.

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