|by:||Feb 5, 2007|
Stars of Global's homegrown drama Falcon Beach are meeting fans from across Canada, the U.S. and beyond this winter, all from the comfort of the show's Virtual Cottage Community, a multi-user environment that has some of the show's advertising partners thinking about a whole new way of reaching online audiences.
The VCC, an interactive element of falconbeach.ca created by A51 Integrated Marketing and Communications, is a virtual reproduction of the cottage community where the Manitoba-shot drama unfolds.
"We're trying to recreate the Falcon Beach world online so the audience can participate and live inside Falcon Beach," says A51 boss Wayne Helman. "The Virtual Cottage Community has been a real learning experience for everybody involved because it really is a huge animal."
Users create their own character (or "avatar") by selecting characteristics such as gender, clothing, hair and skin color. Users move into a shared cottage and start paying rent.
Characters from the show interact with users in the VCC and are capable of having two-way conversations on a variety of topics, ranging from what's happening on the show to exchanging thoughts on favorite sports and cars.
Helman says the artificial intelligence needed to achieve this level of interaction was one of the most difficult elements of creating the VCC, which took 18 months to complete. Another recent upgrade to the site allows users with the appropriate VOIP technology to speak directly to each other while in the VCC.
As users explore, they can interact with one another and form communities. They can also earn money to buy virtual cell phones, new clothes or better digs - an element that is opening up unique possibilities for advertisers.
"As the Falcon Beach audience has continued to grow, fans are looking to get much more involved with the characters and the show. And the advertisers, GM in particular, really see the opportunity to dig in with their own involvement and want to be part of [the VCC]," says Gaye McDonald, VP, marketing ventures - brand partnership for CanWest MediaWorks.
According to McDonald, VCC-based advertising opportunities for General Motors and other potential clients are still in the development stage, but possible applications include creating contest opportunities and giving users the ability to select and purchase a GM vehicle within the VCC.
Users have also asked for a wider variety of choice when it comes to clothing for their characters to wear while in the VCC, which raises the question of when a clothing manufacturer might get onboard - a possibility McDonald says Global is exploring.
Starting in January, the VCC began hosting weekly live chats with Falcon Beach stars, which is also sparking the imaginations of advertisers, according to John Murray of Toronto-based Insight Productions, which produces the show with Winnipeg-based Original Pictures.
"The advertising end of things is really starting to heat up. Certain people watched the first live chat and then the calls started to come in," he says.
The virtual chats give potential advertisers the chance to observe physical manifestations of the show's fans and gauge their level of engagement by watching how they behave within the virtual community.
For example, when Steve Byers, who plays Jason Tanner, entered the VCC for the first live chat Jan. 18, he was greeted by a large group of mostly female fans, many clad in bikinis to meet the hunky star.
Jennifer Kydd, who plays Paige Bradshaw, made her appearance Jan. 25. Morgan Kelly, aka Lane Bradshaw, was scheduled to appear Feb. 1, with additional stars set to enter the virtual world each Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. *