The fierce competition between PC makers HP and Dell has transcended the real world.
Evidenced by a surprisingly candid exchange through their official blogs, the pair are now at loggerheads over the merits of marketing their brands in online worlds such as Second Life.
A stampede of companies, including Dell, IBM, Toyota, Sony BMG, Telstra, the ABC, adidas and the US retailer American Apparel have rushed to buy land in Second Life since it was launched in 2003, hoping to market their wares to its rapidly expanding user base.
But a growing number of industry watchers and companies, including HP, questions whether setting up a base in the 3-D online world has any positive impact on the bottom line.
HP recently toppled Dell to become the world’s largest PC maker and continues to extend its lead. Figures released last week by market analyst firm IDC showed Dell and HP held 15.2 per cent and 19.1 per cent of the worldwide PC market respectively.
HP’s vice-president of global marketing strategy, Eric Kintz, wrote on the official HP blog that Second Life “opens up a window into the future of 3D web, but I still need to be convinced about broader marketing activities”.
He cited 10 downsides to marketing in Second Life, including that the number of subscribers was “misleading”, that the technology was too complex for the average user, that fewer than 100 people could be in one place at any point in time and, most critically, that “potential revenues and profits are limited”.
Dell retorted on its own official company blog, implying HP was being shortsighted and approaching virtual worlds purely as a marketer.
“I think the title of his [Kintz’s] post says a lot about our [Dell’s and HP’s] differences in approaching this medium – ‘Top 10 Reasons as to why I still need to be convinced about marketing on Second Life’,” Dell’s virtual worlds guru Laura Thomas wrote.
Thomas seized on the opportunity to trumpet the benefits of Dell’s direct-to-consumer sales model that negates the need for third-party distributors and resellers.
She said Dell wanted to contribute to the Second Life community, rather than just market to it.
“If you’re approaching the world as an involved resident, then it’s about more than marketing and it has more meaning,” she wrote.
“Dell entered Second Life to explore new ways we can extend our direct relationship with customers, and to learn new ways to interact with virtual communities so we will be prepared for the 3D internet.”
Dell’s activities in Second Life to date have been extensive – the company has its own island and plans to sell virtual PCs to in-world residents.
But, after reading Thomas’s piece, Kintz was still not convinced.
“I think focusing solely on the title of my post – and not its content – is misleading to your readers,” he wrote in the comments section of the Dell blog.
“I was actually challenging brands that go to SL only for marketing purposes.”
Kintz maintained his position that Second Life “residents have today a poor perception of RL [real-life] brand experiments in SL”.