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Webkinz – A virtual playground with hooks?

      Say the name aloud in a shopping mall and kids will start streaming to you like the proverbial Pied Piper of Hamelin wanting to talk about their menagerie of on-line and plush pets and their latest purchases .  For those of you who haven’t heard, Webkinz is a kid’s version of a cross between the Sims and Facebook with lots of safety precautions.  Kids join by buying a plush animal which comes with a code good for a year’s on-line subscription. They then create an on-line version of the pet along with its home.  There are also trading cards for purchase that can be used for a live in-person game or to unlock virtual cards for an on-line game with friends.  Retailers report huge backorders of the pets with kids calling every couple of days to check on their order.  While there are some good lessons for kids including doing faux jobs for “kinzcash” and budgeting for purchases, I worry about the sites that create a negative consequence because kids don’t visit them daily (and sometimes multiple times daily).  That’s sounds like a  solid foundation for building anxiety and addictive behavior.  Some recent news articles talk about parents having to spend an hour a day maintaining all the kids’ virtual animals while the kids are away at camp.  That’s insane.   While I’m all for companies building safe and fun virtual environments for kids, I wouldn’t want my kids cutting a baseball game, a visit to the park, or a family event short because they had to get back to the computer because their virtual pet may get sick.  We have a responsibility as marketers, especially to children, to develop and deliver products and services that offer positive benefits and experiences.  Keep the kids coming back for the fun, learning, and a chance to safely socialize and everyone wins in the end.  What do you think?

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