This past August 10, using a mind-numbing 2,900 words, Alexandra Alter of The Wall Street Journal recounted the bizarre tale of Ric Hoogestraat, 53, a burly, mustachioed Internet addict whose burly, mustachioed avatar on Second Life spends “14 hours at a stretch on weekends as Dutch Hoorenbeek, his six-foot-nine, muscular, motorcycle-riding cyber-self. The character looks like a younger, physically enhanced version of him: a biker with a long black ponytail, strong jaw and thick handlebar mustache.” Avatar Dutch has fallen in love. The object of his affection: a redheaded avatar named Tenaj (Janet spelled backward) Jackalope controlled by Janet Spielman, 38, a divorced Canadian and mother of two. The two avatars have gotten married and Hoogestraat’s real-life wife, Sue, 58, is, to put it mildly, very upset. “It’s really devastating,” says Sue. “You try to talk to someone or bring them a drink, and they’ll be having sex with a cartoon.”
In This Mad, Mad, Surreal World, Who Are Your Customers and Prospects?
As direct marketers, we know a lot about our customers and prospects. Rocketing around the country from database to database are detailed electronic dossiers on just about everyone who isn’t homeless, paranoid or Mafiosi operating entirely on cash. In these dossiers—databases with seemingly endless appends—are names and addresses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, demographics, psychographics, buying habits, income, loan exposures, health problems—you name it and chances are the information you want is accessible. At least that is the conventional wisdom.
However “conventional wisdom” has become an oxymoron in today’s world of ox-like morons, whose actual lives bear zero relationship to what the databases claim them to be. Rather they are totally consumed with other people and events—real, imagined or virtual. For example:
• In the online world are sites on which millions of addicts spend 20 to 40 hours a week—or more. Among them: Club Penguin (12 million), World of Warcraft (9 million), Second Life (8.6 million), There.com (1 million) and Entropia Universe (600,000).
• Until the feds shut the business down, online gambling represented a $15 billion a year industry. PartyGaming had 19 million customers. They will no doubt gravitate to Second Life-like venues where they play with virtual money and somehow convert it into the real stuff.
• In the world of credit cards and mortgages, millions of consumers are maxed out and consumed with perpetual worry.
• Games on the Web—ranging from live big game hunting to air traffic control and Grand Theft Auto—consume millions more of all ages.
• Real-life crime and accidents—ID theft, murders, shootings, automobile crack-ups—all take consumers’ minds off your ad, mailing or DRTV effort.
• The killing fields of the Iraq War.
I get a sense of a loud and collective beating of the breasts and wringing of the hands in the marketing community over ever-worsening results and cascading ROIs. What’s going on?
Quite simply, a lot more compelling stuff is out there than your tired, mediocre offers; workman-like, boring and preachy copy; poorly designed junk mail; screaming Billy May TV commercials; and the mouse-type sans serif disclaimers in your off-the-page ads.
Wake up and smell the coffee—real and virtual!
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. Visit him at www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.