Aug 2, 2007

Disney's Newest Character

AdAge, G. Parker's new favorite ad magazine, reports that Disney just spent $350 million to buy Club Penguin, an ad-free sort-of-social-networking site aimed at kids 6 to 14.

Those of you without kids in this age range have no idea how big Club Penguin is with kids in this age group.

But I'm wondering if Disney bet on the wrong pony here. Club Penguin's biggest competitor is Webkinz™, and if the Tadpoles and their friends are any indication, it's Webkinz by a mile.

Webkinz is one of those ideas you kick yourself for not thinking up. It works like this: you go to the store and buy a Webkinz stuffed animal for around $10-15. And not just any store. Webkinz are only sold in Hallmark stores and other non-traditional locations, thus ensuring scarcity.

Now once you have your Webkinz, you go online and enter the secret code that's in an envelope stitched onto the animal. You name the animal and set up a room for him/her in your Webkinz house. You need to feed and play with your animal to keep it happy by buying food, toys and furniture from the Webkinz store. You buy this all with KinzCash- virtual currency you earn by playing games in the Webkinz arcade. (The Tadpoles all seem to know which games earn the most money for the least effort)

There's no end to how tricked out you can make your Webkinz house and what accessories you can buy. You can also talk to your friends (or make new ones) online, but only via a series of about 2 dozen canned comments-- no independent chat allowed. You can also send a gift to your friends in the hope they'll send one back to you.

I actually find it educational in that it teaches them money management and responsibility-- each Tadpole currently has about a dozen Webkinz and they're quite good about logging in and taking care of their virtual pets. (You also have to remember to log out: it seems a friend of theirs logged out leaving her Webkinz on a treadmill and came back to find it quite ill and in need of a visit to the Webkinz Clinic. For real.)

But when I tell you guys it's huge, it's an understatement: every one of their friends seems to have at least a dozen Webkinz and everyone I work with who has kids that age seems to be in the midst of this mania as well.

Now I'm not sure if Webkinz has actually surpassed Club Penguin (a fully online experience that does not require any offline purchases), if my town is part of the "Webkinz Belt," if there's any sort of socioeconomic factor involved in which one you go to, or if Webkinz (which is newer) is Club Penguin 2.0.

I do know, however, that this is another evolution of social media, one that's evolved specifically for tweens. And that if I were the guy who came up with it, I'd be one rich Toad.


David Jacobs said...

My 8 year old daughter has used both and spends more time on Webkins lately, but what Disney bought is a platform. What they could imagineer on that platform could be very compelling if they do a good job of blending in their brands. It wouldn't take much to get my daughter interested in a 3D Disney world.

Toad said...

Hey David, and welcome.

I was thinking the same thing: Disney usually manages to turn everything they touch into gold.

But I'm wondering if the fact that Webkinz has an offline component - an actual cuddly stuffed animal- will win out in the end.

Janet & Edgar said...

Stuffed animal may not be that compelling compared to the Disney marketing machine.

I had four Club Penguin kids at home during the winter. With warmer weather, they're out in sports and other activities the other seasons. At rare moments they'll use Club Penguin to chat with cousins. Other times they may opt for their Nintendo DS (portable).

I've heard of Webkinz. Maybe my girls will go for the stuff animals, but not the boys.

I agree with David. I can see the kids being reminded of Club Penguin (perhaps enhanced) when they watch Hannah Montana or Suite Life on the Disney Channel. Maybe a Club Penguin that can be used on a Nintendo DS, iPod, etc.?

Toad said...

@J&E: Hello and welcome to The Toad Stool. Curious how old your kids are and where you are located. Just because Webkinz seems to be such a tidal wave in metro NYC and metro LA (other places I'm sure, but I know enough people in both places to make that statement with some degree of certainty.

As for boys and stuffed animals, my oldest and his friends are all hardcore jocks and hardcore Webkinz addicts.

Webkinz seems to attract a younger base, say 4 - 10. Not sure about Club Penguin, but I can see the two splitting kids based on age, with one skewing older than the other.

toad's sixth reader said...

my 6 year old son was a penguin fanatic (and full member) but then migrated to webkinz and so we bought the requisite bug-eyed plush chihuahua. so now he frequents both.

both are brilliant ideas. and they've taught my son a lot about computers etc. i'm sure disney will take it to the next level. i just hope they don't over-commercialize it. some hope of that eh.

CK said...

Well, is the tired-from-the-treadmill Webkinz OK?

Jonathan Trenn said...

I'm going to have to check both out. The problem now is that I'm trying to ween my son off Pokemon and I'm wondering if these other type of engagements amount to a new drug.

I like the point about financial responsibility though. Definitely interest me. : )

Toad said...

@CK: It's been confirmed: after a long stay in the Webkinz "clinic" and much spending of KinzCash, the treadmilling WebKinz is now okay. (Their online noses get green when they get sick. For real.)

CK said...

now I like this webkinz thingie becuz it made me care about that damn bear/whatnot. seriously, I think a marketer's job is to make me care (besides creating value for me). I do so want to see a picture of that bear thingie sick and well.