Thursday, December 13, 2007

New CCFC Campaign - Webkinz Incorporates Third-Party Ads

The Uber-popular, toy-based, virtual environment for kids, Webkinz, has begun incorporating third-party ads into their content, causing a bit of an uproar among parents and launching a new campaign led by child advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to convince the site to remove the extra ads. I say extra because the Webkinz site, as the CCFC points out, is in itself already an advertisement, of the "transmedia intertext" variety. Here are some of the details about the CCFC's campaign, from the organization's website:
Webkinz.com, the most visited virtual world for children in the United States, has quietly begun targeting its users with outside advertising.

The site is already commercial – in order to subscribe to it, children must buy a Webkinz toy that comes with a special code. But apparently using the site to sell millions of Webkinz stuffed animals wasn’t enough for Ganz (the makers of Webkinz) and now they’re selling their young users to advertisers. To make matters worse, Ganz didn’t bother to inform parents, many of whom purchase Webkinz toys for their children expecting that the website will be free of outside advertising and links. By opening the site to advertisers, Ganz is choosing to maximize profits at the expense of parents’ trust and children’s wellbeing.

Please take a moment to tell CEO Howard Ganz to stop advertising on Webkinz.

Is anyone else frustrated at the typical timeline for this particular breed of kids' sites? They start off seemingly unbranded...until you realize that they already have numerous licensing agreements in place, and that a whack of ancillary products are actually being referenced in the site and throughout kids' culture. As soon as the site becomes popular - third-party advertisers and market research (for sale, anyway, as it's surely been going on behind the scenes all along) are introduced. At this point the site either crosses into media-brand territory (films, comic books, videogames, action figures), or becomes yesterday's news, as kids seek out the "next big thing". I wonder, however, if the kids' motivation is really that of finding the "next" big fad (as marketing discourse would have us believe), or whether they might, inadvertently or not, be trying to escape the ads and other changes that take place within their favorite sites once the emphasis has shifted away from attracting a large population base, and onto ways of selling that population to advertisers. How much does the integration of advertising alter the activities, community and overall experience? Once kids are no longer the main focus -- from a business perspective at least -- are they (and their needs) treated any differently?

Read more coverage at the New York Times and at Common Dreams.

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