One of the more eyebrow-raising branding successes of the year has been SecondLife, the “real world” massively multiplayer online ‘game’ (or ‘environment’ maybe) which has been getting regular press – marketing and mainstream – for the willingness of various businesses to advertise there: most recently Reuters, which has assigned some poor sucker thrusting young journalist to its virtual beat. Several people at work have asked me what I think of the site, a sign that the word-of-mouth (or hype) is spreading through the marcomms industry. “Clients,” writes one columnist in the trade press this week, “are increasingly asking agencies what their Second Life strategy is”.

There’s no question that someone is going to make lots of money out of Second Life – whether it’s any of the people advertising there is more doubtful. The same columnist suggests that the site is slow to load, clunky, not very much happens in it, and its user base is still fairly small – under a million, compared to the 7 million or so that a virtual environment like World of Warcraft can boast. But it’s fair to assume that clients aren’t asking agencies what their World of Warcraft strategy is. (“I say we level up your brand rapidly.”)

The comparison between SL and WoW points up the not-so-hidden agenda behind the SecondLife buzz – here’s a virtual environment that – thank heavens! – isn’t for nerds! Ordinary people use it, hallelujah – in fact, better than ordinary people – cool people use it. Well, in theory they do. Of course, five hours spent in front of a SecondLife interface is no more or less than five hours spent in EverQuest – virtual environments are still an extraordinarily time-intensive leisure option – but let’s not worry about that when all the avatars look like well-dressed ad execs rather than valkyries and barbarians!