Webkinz: A real mistake in marketing

December 13, 2007

Last holiday season all of my tween testers kept asking for Webkinz. It was clearly the “hot” toy/play environment of the season. Even parents sent us emails saying that they too loved the site and used it as a way to play on-line with their kids. Webkinz brillantly blended all of the trends of the last decade: virtual pets meets Beanie Babies meets on-line shopping. What’s not to love?

Last week I was puzzled that the spin on the site was that it taught kids how to be “responsible” (the site was featured on iVillage In the Loop). True, you do have to feed your webkinz — I don’t believe it rises to the level of social responsibility. It’s a fun site, and as one of our kid testers explained “there’s always something new to buy!”

With the hottest children’s site on the web, it was predictable that the folks at Ganz would look for ways to build on their amazing success (especially when success in the toy industry is usually a fleeting phenomena). So the site, that had been ad-free, now posted ads and tie-ins to the Bee movie (where wasn’t the Bee movie tied in?)….Here’s where the company angered their base. Parents expected the site to be ad-free.

Of course these sites are really not ad-free. The sites are a perpetual ad for their own product but at least parents know what they have bought into. It’s another issue to have kids bombarded with ads for other products that parents may not even be aware of. When looking at these sites this summer, we were particularly taken aback by the Barbie site where kids can only access certain hair and nail designs by paying an additional fee.

Back in the 80s, my mother wrote a book called Buy Me! Buy Me!–which looked at the never ending buy ins of such hot properties of the time (can you say ninja turtle?)….Webkinz and it’s followers have just found a way to move the buy me, buy me possibilities into our family rooms–just an easy click of the mouse and you’re in.

Our advice remains the same– look at the sites with your kids from time to time. See what’s being posted. Webkinz promotes “academic questions” as a way to make more money on the site. Our testers tell us that they’ll do the questions sometimes, but they are really much more interested in the on-line shopping and the more arcade-like games offered on the site.

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Trends Other than Safety/WEBKINZ and its spawn

November 14, 2007

For the time being–or until there’s another recall, I’m pretty talked out on the safety issue as the overriding trend in toyland.  So I thought it would be a welcomed changed of pace to discuss the more light-hearted trends we had intended on publishing in our book before we were forced to cancel the publication. The first is WEBKINZ-Connection and Collecting.

If you know a school-aged child well, you’ve probably heard about this on-line gaming phenomenon that has the whole toy industry playing catch up. Webkinz live in both the real world (stuffed animals) and in cyberspace (the stuffed animal gives you a code enabling on-line player). Players take care of their Webkinz and play arcade games. From our testers’ point of view, there is always something new to buy on the site for their pet or their room. The experience is the high-tech blend of Beanie Babies, Tamagotchis, NeoPets, and on-line shopping. Everyone wants to be the next Webkinz; even Barbie now is focusing on her on-line persona. More sites will follow. And why not? For the toymakers this is a new way of generation sales. Like toy-driven cartoons on TV, these toy-driven internet sites play on connecting, collecting, and consuming. In truth, they are long-playing commercials.  While some of the games are free without a buy in toy, players will often discover that in order to access certain rooms, or in the case of Barbie certain hair styles, you do need to pay.