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BizReport : Social Marketing : October 09, 2007

Kids and teens going virtual in large numbers

There’s a new way for marketers to reach kids and teens online – virtual worlds – and, unlike Second Life, these kid-friendly environments are attracting, and keeping, larger audiences.

by Helen Leggatt

Unlike Second Life, an adult virtual world, Webkinz and other virtual worlds for kids and teens immerse their members in a brand environment. From the moment a Webkinz plush toy is purchased the child is given access to a safe online environment containing educational, social and stimulating activities.

"Advertising is part of the overall experience in child- and teen-oriented virtual worlds," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst at eMarketer. "Unlike in Second Life, where marketers have built vast islands that avatars must visit to interact with the brand, advertising is part of the overall experience in virtual worlds for children and teens."

By combining offline sales with ever-changing online content the virtual world has attracted millions. comScore data from July this year shows both Webkins and Club Penguin attracted more than 5 million unique visitors each in that month. Nicktropolis had 2.2 million. That's quite a contrast to Second Life's number of visits in the same period - around 414,000.

All this and not a sign of any advertising. Apparently the buzz has been created purely by word-of-mouth.

As well as the initial cost of the plush toys, *along with an annual subscription fee of around $10, the Webkinz experience, aimed at 4 to 14 year olds, manages to continually extract small amounts of money, on a regular basis, by encouraging the purchase of game-play items such as charms, secret codes and even lip gloss. Without these items, costing anything from a couple of dollars, the children can’t progress in their virtual world or enter particular areas such as the salon or the charm forest.

According to a recent report by eMarketer, “Kids and Teens Online”, almost a quarter of the 34.3 million child and teen Internet users in the U.S. will frequent a virtual world this year. By 2011 that figure will rise to over half, with 53 percent going virtual.

*Edited: To clarify, it is incorrect that there is a yearly subscription fee. Instead, the adoption period for the Webkinz is limited to one year, after which you are required to purchase a new plush toy. So, much like a web subscription but well disguised. Thank you Karl of Webkinz for pointing this out.

Tags: children, teens, virtual world, Webkinz

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