Word of Mouse: Creating a Musical Buzz Online

Rap artist 50 Cent on the virtual community Zwinky. i i

Rap artist 50 Cent on the virtual community Zwinky. Zwinky.com hide caption

itoggle caption Zwinky.com
Rap artist 50 Cent on the virtual community Zwinky.

Rap artist 50 Cent on the virtual community Zwinky.

Zwinky.com
50 Cent's boutique on Zwinky.com i i

Zwinky visitors can use virtual currency to purchase 50 Cent merchandise at his "Like Dat" boutique. Users earn Zbucks by playing games and exploring the different locations inside the virtual world. Zwinky.com hide caption

itoggle caption Zwinky.com
50 Cent's boutique on Zwinky.com

Zwinky visitors can use virtual currency to purchase 50 Cent merchandise at his "Like Dat" boutique. Users earn Zbucks by playing games and exploring the different locations inside the virtual world.

Zwinky.com

Musicians have long looked beyond radio and record stores to publicize their new albums. MTV? That's so last century. Now the whole world is just a click away and MySpace is a must for artist promotion.

Lately, artists — including 50 Cent and Avril Lavigne — are allowing virtual versions of themselves to appear on social networking sites. They're hoping to create something called "viral value" or word-of-mouth buzz, said Andrew Hampp, a media reporter for Advertising Age magazine.

On Zwinky.com, for example, 50 Cent has been promoting his new album, Curtis, which debuts Tuesday. Visitors to the site can preview tracks from the CD — and dress the rapper's avatar in virtual merchandise, including caps and other gear.

"It's like an upgraded paper doll, if you will," Hampp told Steve Inskeep. "You can pick out the outfits that you want to put on your 50 Cent."

Singers Lavigne and Hilary Duff have licensed their likenesses to another site called Stardoll, aimed at teens and tweens.

"The return on investment here is still a little unproven," Hampp said. "However, there are some positive examples." Lavigne's partnership with Stardoll likely boosted sales of her latest album, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart, he said.

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