Wednesday, January 13, 2010

United We Consume: New Virtual World Sees Future as Giant Shopping Mall

I was really excited today when I first scanned an announcement that Cisco was launching a new virtual world named "United Nations Citizen". Wow! With a name like that, I imagined they must be focusing on some really lofty vision to bring the people of the world together to promote peace and understanding.

The idea was so intriguing that instead of reading the announcement very deeply,  I jumped right to the virtual world's website. Hmm. Their slogan is "where faithful friends unite". That seems really warm and fuzzy. A video played at the top of the screen showing a long-haired dude standing in front of a cool yellow sports car inviting me to "become a United Nations Citizen now!"

I poked around a bit, but couldn't find a way to sign up for citizenship, only an application for a virtual job.

I went back to the press release to try to figure out what was going on. Five companies were named as partners: Cisco, Equifax, Heads and Tails TV, Faithful Friends TV and Montage Systems. Strange combination...a couple firms delivering programming for pet owners, an advertising agency with a direct response bent, the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet, and a company that holds one of the largest sources of consumer data in the world.

I read on:
More than 330 stores already are members of United Nations Citizens through affiliate marketing agreements, including Apple iTunes, Microsoft Store, Walmart, and Sky Mall, providing customers a unique way to view products and services in a setting that replicates real-world environments. Member companies are able to scale real-life presentations, combined with data collection, personalized product placement and digital signage, through seamless delivery over the web and mobile networks.
Call me cynical, but it seems to me that their vision of the future equates "citizen" and "consumer" and is creating a virtual world that is a place to herd the world's faithful friends into an environment that is more "Minority Report" than "Avatar". Oh well.

What do you think? Here's the video that accompanied their press release.


15 comments:

Gary Arthur Douglas II said...

Yes, they're flattening it to consumerist dimensions. But they're not quite as short-sighted as they can seem. They're targeting the other aspects of virtual worlds, too - but a move like this only shows that they're willing to reach to make sure they get a piece of the various (many) pies that will emerge from this medium.

Good post Botgirl!

draxtor said...

Botgirl, great post! Shopping & blowing things up for fun = citizenship? God help us (and I don't even believe in him....)

Lalo Telling said...

I did the same thing you did, Botgirl: I went to the site. Watched the promotional video (which seems at least as much attuned to attracting corporate presence as it does "citizens"), clicked the other available links and read the sketchy (and somewhat redundant) paragraphs to be found there.

Last, but not least, I went to the employment application. Hey, why not, since I'm not employed in RL at the moment? There I discovered that in order to be considered for employment, you must give them the URL to your Facebook account... i.e., you must have one! I think we all know by now what's wrong with FB, so I won't dwell further.

Among other positions, they're looking for bartenders and waitresses. When will marketers learn that avatars don't eat or drink???

Michele Hyacinth said...

Why do I hear Steven Cobert saying "Nation!" in the back of my mind. "Citizens!" There's something creepy about this...and creepier still the implication that "real" equates with "consuming" or "shopping". I think "real" has far more dimensions than yes the "flatness", as Gary mentioned in his comment, of consumption. I watched the video for two seconds. That was about all I could endure.

iliveisl said...

that site is by Cisco??? and the video script? looks like a really cheesy scam

i don't have time for that!

*goes back to acai berries, teeth whitening, and Trump network stuff in twitter* =D

Tateru Nino said...

No, the site isn't by Cisco. I've been talking with the people behind it since yesterday. I'll have more to say about it in a day or so.

Botgirl Questi said...

Gary: Just from a marketing communication perspective, they seem to be all over the place. They obviously spent some money putting together videos that are, um, let's say less-than-compelling. The website design is really dated, with bad UI and lots of missing information. Another concern that others have raised is the actual level of involvement of Cisco. Are they just using some Cisco equipment or is there some sort of equity stake in the company? I guess time will tell.

Draxtor: Don't you mean that you don't believe in "her" ;)

Lalo: It's hard to know what to make of them. They certainly don't provide enough hard enformation to make people confident enough to send in an application with their phone numbers, facebook info, etc.

Michele: Yeah. It's really a surreal series of videos, especially when combined with all of the hype-filled language scattered through their site and press release.

iliveisl: It is a mysterious presentation, indeed.

Tateru: The use of the world "partner" doesn't mean that much in these kind of announcements. Could just be they are using Cisco equipment. It didn't give information about the actual investors/owners. Hope you can enlighten us soon.

Lizzie Lexington said...

I guess with the increased use of DVRs which allows people to skip TV commercials, companies are now getting a bit more daring in the way they market their products. But why the hell would I want to log into their virtual world that's going to be nothing but interactive commercials, ha.

Dusty Artaud said...

Applied for job on their website. Just got an email from them. Here's the pitch:

from Christy Wilson
date Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 7:50 PM
subject UNC Job Application Processing


Dear Applicant,

Currently, we have a multi-staged process to providing jobs for online assistants, greeters and more as part of the "Social Network of the Future."
Please review the following jobs available at the following link:

- http://www.unitednationscitizen.com/jobpdf.pdf

Each applicant desiring a position will have a fair opportunity to secue a position and become a "Charter Citizen." The following is how we are moving forward:

1. Job Opportunities & Sign Up (online assistants, greeters, tour operators, etc.)
- During this phase interviewees will have the opportunity to:
- Review world attributes, have an online review with a dedicated operator and future discussion with a HR person (if agreed including; terms of work, restrictions, etc.)
2. Online training (online assistants, greeters, tour operators, etc.)
- During this phase job applicants will complete a staged tutorial and appropriate testing for their proposed position
- Final agreement for positions to be determined by HR after this phase
3. World Showcase "WebEx Showcase Launch"
- During this phase we will provide journalists & members the opportunity to "test drive" in the world
- At this time, a limited number of positions will be tested
4. Retail Opens, PPV Concerts and Limited Access by Members
- During this phase we will provide an open forum of the software to be downloaded and enjoyed by limited numbers of consumers
- Online Assistants and Greeters (and other appropriate positions) to be available for completing their tasks in world
5. Major event (to be named) for World Launch
- The date alone will give it away (so can't give out that good piece of information)

We will be providing a comprehensive email on next steps, retail locations and more on Jan. 22, 2010.

Please stay tuned, and thank you for your initial interest.


Thank you,

UNC Human Resources

Darien Mason said...

"The date alone will give it away."

April Fools Day?

Also, how can they throw around the term "United Nations" like they own it? Would a certain intergovernmental body have something to say about that?

Lalo Telling said...

I used the "Contact Us" link on UNC's site to register a comment about the Facebook requirement, and received a reply which included a copy of the same timeline Dusty received.

Yesterday (1/15) I went back to UNC's site to verify something else, and discovered that my focus on Facebook -- understandable, perhaps, in light of their purging of avatar accounts -- had temporarily blinded me to a much bigger problem with that application.

Quote: "Do you agree to our terms and conditions set forth by United Nations Citizen"

Nowhere on that site could I find anything even vaguely resembling "terms and conditions".

I emailed them about that last night; no reply as of yet.

Dusty Artaud said...

Yes, Lalo, same on Terms & Conditions here -- could not find on registration form or anywhere. Suspect, as there are other incomplete links on the site, that they launched before full prep and testing because of their public announcement deadline at the 99th Annual National Retailers Federation Expo in New York City on January 13th.

Dusty Artaud said...

so bit of an update...the Facebook presence for UNC is now available: http://www.facebook.com/uncavatar
As the reg form originally specified FB friending, I friended Unc Avatar and am awaiting confirmation (there is a fan page too now).
I noticed Unc already had one friend, and when I clicked on him, discovered that the "UNC Human Resources" sender of the email - Christy Wilson - is his fiance. Would posit that this is a family enterprise...except that Dos Dosanjh from Cisco is involved, based on Virtual World News article http://bit.ly/62L79j

Lalo Telling said...

The emails I received were from Tony Loiacono, who is also owner of "Head & Tails TV", the advertising agency in the joint venture.

Coincidentally, the in-world currency mentioned in the website is called the CONO (caps theirs).

I'll be blogging about this in a day or two... and I hope to read something on Tateru's blog, too.

Lalo Telling said...

Finally posted: "Vaporworld"