Virtual arenas are an integral part of tweens' social structure and a place to practice independence.
Going virtual with a marketing campaign makes sense (and cents) for companies today, according to COO Jay Goss of tween/teen virtual world Whyville, an online community in which “citizens” can take a trip to the Getty Museum or visit the Toyota-sponsored Club Scion to purchase a car with their hard-earned clam currency.
Unlike social networks, virtual worlds are built on avatar-enabled synchronous communication, Goss said at the Youth Marketing Mega Event in Huntington Beach, Calif., in late March. They allow marketers access to an engaged audience and offer them a non-intrusive, symbiotic relationship with potential customers.
Toys Go Virtual
Certainly, a smash-hit idea so central to tween life hasn't eluded the toy market, and many brands have managed their own virtual integration. Just think of Ganz's Webkinz, a popular plush product linked to the online Webkinz World of pet care and game play. And Neopets.com, which TDmonthly Magazine reported as the No. 1 tween-ranked website in 2003. With more than 137 million registered Neopet owners, the site is just one portion of the company, which produces collectible trading cards, plush and more.
Fans of Tamagotchi Connection virtual pets by Bandai America can check out the arcade, Tamatown Hall and more at TamagotchiTown.com. The maker of Beanie Babies jumped on board this spring with Ty Girlz, 14" soft dolls that come with a secret code to an online world. And many new toy companies, such as Poppo Brands (ToyShow) and Princess Zara, are developing products and marketing strategies that include virtual exposure.
A World of Opportunity
But Goss isn’t about going it alone.
“Our model is all about custom-integrating a brand/product/service/organization into Whyville in a purposeful fashion,” he told TDmonthly Magazine — something that can usually be accomplished through a $25,000 to $300,000 campaign, depending on the presence and length of sponsorship. “We hope to work more with the toys and games this year. … [and] have a few more real-world retailers inside Whyville,” he said.
Numbers show that virtual marketing is already drawing attention. More than 6,000 citizens of Whyville showed up for pop sensation Stacie Orrico’s online concert in December, Goss said, and four months after a 19-day campaign for The Little Mermaid, 78 percent of kids remembered the product promotion.
Sites such as Nicktropolis and the popular Club Penguin are other examples of tween-populated virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the best-known worlds for adults, but Goss said that when it comes to tweens, these virtual arenas have nothing to do with a “second life.” Rather, they are an integral part of tweens’ social structure and a place to practice independence.