Advertising in Virtual Worlds

Are kids ready for ads in virtual worlds? | CNET News.com
By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

At a recent conference on virtual worlds in San Jose, Calif., executives from some of the industry’s biggest sites touted growing audiences of kids, who spend hours a month playing games and socializing. Some of those communities boasted of successful experiments with marketing. For example, preteens are driving virtual Toyota Scions on sites such as Whyville.net and Gaia Online, and they’re wearing the latest digital fashions from DKNY at Stardoll.com. Nickelodeon also talked about coming plans to run “immersive” ads in its 3D environment for kids ages 7 to 14.

Executives at these companies, and their investors, agree that virtual worlds are engaging enough to children to provide an unprecedented opportunity for marketing. But in a nascent industry with relatively no standards for advertising, media watchdogs, educators and even some gamemakers are worried.

“This kind of marketing is designed to operate at a subconscious level. And kids don’t know how to think critically about how someone’s trying to get them to be loyal to a brand or buy their products,” said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor in the School of Communication at American University and author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.

Montgomery said the purpose of ads in 3D worlds is often to blur the lines between content and product marketing, and that that’s not a new concept. Product companies creating branded content to appeal to kids is as old as the first days of television. But Montgomery and others say virtual worlds and related games change the equation for brand marketers because a child’s interaction and emotional engagement is so high.

(Head over to the article by clicking the link below: it’s worth a gander for more context…)
Are kids ready for ads in virtual worlds? | CNET News.com

I’m sorry I’ve been such a butt about not posting thoroughly lately. And yes, I just called myself a butt. I’ve got an EXCITING new announcement coming my way (or at least, in MY world its exciting) and it’s taken like 82.7% of my available brain space.

Basically, I’ll say this– September was a wacky month for Virtual Worlds & kids online. Why? Because it was conference crazy– with the general EYE OF MORDOR smacked directly on the virtual worlds & youth participation. Indeed.

I’m feeling a bit ahead of the curve lately, and that’s given me personal issues with talking to people about the current state of this particular market. As everyone is buzzing about WEB BASED THEME PARKS, I’ve been dealing with the nitty gritty of web worlds– how are they defined, differing, successful, etc.

But more than anything, when it comes to advertising & online adventures in so called “Virtual Worlds” (depending on the type of VW and the truth of what it actually is) — it is something to pay attention to, but (In my opinion) not get all “up in arms” about. I’d much rather have the main focus of peeps remain on education & understanding of the web (in general) with youth & their parents. And maybe toss some of that attention on “WHO IS MODERATING MY CHILD?” thought processes.

In my opinion (and a rather blunt one it is at the moment… my apologies to anyone who thinks I’m bonkers about this) is that– advertising & virtual worlds go hand in hand… and they HAVE to.

Why? Because:

a) Theme parks of any nature have been subconsciously pimping their product for AGES. What do you think Disney World is? Talk about EVANGELISTS!! My family went EVERY YEAR for 17 years. We drove the 21 hours every Christmas day to spend our winter holiday in the cool 60 temp of Orlando, so my sister and I could continue our never-ending FEAST of all things Disney. Disney World/Land, etc, are MECCAs to the brand. Places to get emotionally invested to the point of living, breathing, sleeping, eating Disney.

Think about it– if they weren’t so “all about their product” perhaps Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride would still be around– instead of Pooh’s Adventure (or whatever they changed it to). Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was creeptastic and weird… and legendary. HOWEVER, its not a hot product now, and it doesn’t support any of the books, cartoons, movies, etc that currently have shelving space in the popular market.

And– has everyone forgotten Bugs Bunny’s stint as Great America Theme Park’s ambassador? Warner Bros stuff could be “won” at any of the basketball challenges or weight guessing areas. And the Batman roller coaster was a TOTALLY publicity attraction for Burton’s Batman.

Legoland, people, LEGO… LAND.

These theme parks are IRL versions of the awesomeness you can now find in Virtual Worlds.

b) My dad is awesome. He’s my hero. He always have this one liners he shares for nearly everything in life. I one day want to create a book called, Tom’s One-liners Of Awesomeness. It will include such wonders as “Table for one”, “PMA: Positive Mental Attitude”, “Have a party and invite those pants up”, and his favorite saying for me while I was in my teen years: “What, do you think money grows on trees?”

After years of wishing money did indeed grow on trees, I came to understand his saying in a more contemporary quote “NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE” except air– and sooner or later you’ll have to buy a gas mask for that one (thanks, Mr. Pollution).

But seriously. When I first took on the role of community manager– I wanted to do all these wonderful things for the audience. BUILD A VIRTUAL WORLD, I shouted merrily. Of course, this was about two years ago when there were three birds in the bush. Joi Podgorny, my then Director, said “But Izzy, Virtual Worlds aren’t free, and we have only so much man power.” And damn me if she wasn’t right. It takes an army of people to do it right. An army of people to build. An army of people to keep it floating. Pretty things just don’t pop out of people’s brains fully formed (I know about 3 people who completely disagree with me on that… bless them).

Wouldn’t it rock if fans– like the ones for Harry Potter– sprouted out of every single property, no matter the size? Fans willing to give up their personal time & effort to build kick-butt apps & designs for a community. Well-trained moderators springing from every nook, pumped to help 24-hour moderate & protect the virtual world for U13s? Well… those are my pipe dreams. Dear, sweet, chocolate covered pipe dreams.

We always try to say kids are REALLY clever. Yes, they are. But its more of a 1/3 clever. You see, they are also 1/3 livin’ in the moment, and 1/3 blissfully unaware. And above all– they just wanna have a good time. No more boredom. No more “you’re a kid” mentality. They want to feel important without actually being important (or carrying the responsibility of it). And they want to be a part of something without carrying the burden. They just wanna enjoy. And who doesn’t?

If that means they have to be subjected to some advertising– sure, they might complain, but if they ultimately get what they want– which is enjoy an activity that they personally find appealing… they’ll do what it takes to get there.

Kids will be evangelists. It’s what they do. Tweens enjoy brands because they’re common to all with a hint of coolness. They can hide their insecurities and misunderstandings and worries and all their person thoughts behind the knowledge that IF THEY enjoy this property/brand/etc and they know their friends already enjoy it too– that they’re on common ground. They’re safe.

It’s the whole “collage” theory I’ve been spouting for ages. 10-13 year olds love showing the world who they are… as long as it’s based upon common ideas: sports, books, actors, games, …properties… POP CULTURE. (No one… ESPECIALLY a mid-pubescent tween… wants to be alienated or an outcast or completely alone in their uniqueness… NOT EVEN GONZO– I mean, have you SEEN “Muppets From Space”? LOLz)

entertainment (if done right)= pop culture (ultimately) = one consistent advertisement. Think about it!

Ultimately it goes like this: If you can’t charge to get into the site (ie. Club Penguin & it’s guaranteed safety for parents relief membership model), then you have to find a way to bring in $$ off it– gotta pay the staff, and the bills, and fund future en devours of awesomeness for the site.

Kids will get that idea, or not ask at all. And if they don’t like it? They can execute their personal choice and NOT go there. NOT buy the product. And if the kids don’t do that– then what’re their parents up to?

Thoughts at the beep.

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  1. October 19, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Hi Hi,

    Not surprisingly, I disagree with the “it takes an army”. Software development is marching steadily onward. We’re moving to a time when you can start a software based company (with consistent success) with 3-4 tech people. Right now you still need awesome people. In the next boom/bust tech cycle (5 years?). I imagine most VC types will look at you quizzically if you have staffing plans in the dozens – on the tech side. You’ll need OK people with a good idea. Bear in mind these are averages for single product web-based companies – This is NOT for a multiproperty, multimedia extravaganza ; )

    As a case in point, I did kidfu.com’s tech from scratch, by myself, in ’01. It took longer than I would have liked, and I couldn’t have done it at all without the other three partners. This was before we had some of the amazing frameworks we have today – Rails, CakePHP, etc etc etc. I’m only tooting my horn on the tech side, we didn’t do a good job on the business side of that 🙂

    The other side of running a community – the screeners/modders can be somewhat minimized today with technical solutions and solid UI design in conjunction with an experienced training system and QA procedures. With the emphasis on that side of the equation these days, I expect the next generation of those best practices to really impact the scaling there.

    To say you need an army is, in my experience, really not true. You just need a focus and the will to see it through. To run anything huge you need more people. Presumably by then, your ideas are working out and you have the revenue to consider hiring them.

    My 2 cents,

    Brian

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