Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smallest Possible Groups

Over at Ypulse, a great site for Youth Marketing ideas and discussions... Anastias has a thought provoking question:

The entire post

Brands To Virtual Worlds: Show Me The [Real] Money
Posted by anastasia on 02-19-2009
This week I went "on the road" to meet with some different companies in the Bay Area that we hope will get involved with our Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup in June. One of the companies sells advertising (among other things) for lots of youth oriented sites including virtual worlds. Another company offers portable avatars where you can surf the web with your avatar buddies picking up virtual goods along the way.

I'm no expert in virtual worlds, but what these youth-y virtual worlds (and according to today's Research Roundup, there are 200+ now) all love to say is that kids and teens are demanding brands in world. And I believe it — who wouldn't want virtual Nikes or Adidas vs. virtual generic sneakers? I get the demand for personalization and how much brands have become a part of their online identities (as well as off).

Then she asked: Do these worlds give some kids a way to be the cool/rich avatar without having real world money or just encourage more of that kind of behavior offline? Do you see the presence of brands in these worlds as benign or troubling?

Here's what I wrote; what do you think?

I see them as benign -- at least as far as they represent traditional human behavior in every other area.

Now I'll say something heretical: seeking brands in virtual worlds has nothing to do with social media, virtual or viral marketing, "new" teens and tweens, branding or anything else.

It has to do with the intersection of 2 human needs: one is to be an individual and the other is to be accepted as a member of a group. Where these needs meet are your "smallest possible group". It's why fads are cyclical. It's also why, when groups become large enough, there have to be new ways to differentiate between people.

When "X" first becomes popular, very few people do "X" so merely doing it makes you a member of the smallest possible group. Once enough people do "X", the group members need additional distinguishing criteria ... hence, in this case, the need for additional brand items.