Real World Mobile Phone Company Meets Virtual World

Through a bit of surreptitious snooping, Chip Poutine of the fabulous 3pointD blog discovered recently that TELUS, the second largest Canadian telecommunications company, will be making its debut in the virtual world of Second Life on August 24.

It looks like the company’s virtual presence, guided by the hand of a TELUS advertising manager with the virtual moniker of Sparkle Dale, will feature a store built to resemble the TELUS flagships in Toronto and Montreal, and also involve mobile phones that resemble real-world models available through TELUS.

Taking a hint from the multitude of folks who have been saying that the presence of real world brands in virtual worlds necessitates some type of beneficial user experience beyond just seeing a billboard or visiting a store, TELUS has designed the in-world phones to be used to indicate if someone is on a real-world phone call or engaged in a private IM conversation.

I like the idea and think it’s a great way to incorporate a real brand into a virtual world, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, when I heard this, my cynical side instantly envisioned expanding the offering to include virtual Bluetooth headsets that broadcast one side of the wearers’ private conversations to everyone within a close physical proximity. Then we’d have a virtual world filled with what looked like insane folks carrying on conversations with themselves to match the real world.

Let’s do TELUS one better, though. Instead of simply confining the phones to merely an availability status indicator, what if the phones enabled a Second Life residents to actually have a voice conversation? One of the most popular questions we get in the lab when we show clients Second Life is, “So, can you physically talk to other people with your own voice?” What if these virtual cell phones, using some type of third-party software, enabled that?

Inherently, cell phones are a tool for communication and the best way to further a brand in a virtual world is by exemplifying what that brand is all about. Instead of relegating cell phones to what could be considered by some to be a painfully realistic, annoying indicator that someone else just isn’t paying attention to you, wouldn’t it be cool if someone could offer something to Second Life residents that has never existed before – a worldwide voice communication network?

Anyway, maybe TELUS will. I imagine the reason that they didn’t already isn’t because they hadn’t thought of it, but because of a limited budget to explore the possibilities in Second Life. Hopefully their jump into virtual worlds will create enough fanfare that they can expand upon their offering and stick around for a while.