As a parent of an 8 and a 9 year old girl, I’m learning a lot about marketing lately from the other side of the fence. The funny thing is, some of the things I see working are exactly the types of things we marketing types have been railing against, such as the SecondLife.com type virtual world marketing.
The thing is that while I may have grown up in a world without an Internet, my daughters have grown up in a world where they expect it. They could teach us all a little bit about usability and user expectation (a topic for another day). The type of thing that’s on fire right now for them and their network of friends is the WebKinz World virtual experience, where you buy a plush toy which is available at a$10 price point (makes it easy to convince a softhearted dad), and it comes with a code attached. They then go online and “adopt” their toy, and set up it’s home in the virtual world. The kids can buy stuff for the toy, such as furnishings for it’s house, like a pool, by using Webkinz Dollars, which they earn by playing games, etc. Those games may or may not have a subtle marketing message to them (honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time evalutating that). They can also interact with their friends via the Clubhouse, where they are restricted to speed key type text messages, meaning they must select their messages to each other from a prewritten list, thus avoiding the chat issues that make parents cringe. (More on virtual world marketing for girls tomorrow…)
This morning, there was an incredibly interesting piece on The Early Show about “Alpha Girls” (watch the video here – a must for marketers). The crux of the story is that marketers have realized that tween age girls can be influenced by Secret Agent marketing.
For those not familiar with the term, Secret Agent Marketing is when a hired gun is used to promote a product in a chance situation. Such as when a liquor company hires a hot babe as an “ambassador” and she walks around the bars mentioning that “that new pomegranite liquor is excellent with vodka” and the next thing you know, every guy in the bar has tried it.
In the Alpha Girl twist, they realize that in any group of girls, one or two exorts and inordinant amount of influence. They identify these girls, then enlist them as “secret agents”, sending a box of stuff to be tested. The Alpha girl has a party, and then enters her findings afterwards on a website.
They’ve also realized that they’re excellent alpha testers, because they’ll tell you what they think about your product. If it’s good, the product goes viral. If it isn’t you better fix it, or forget it.
I think it’s going a step too far for me. Little girls can be lemmings and I hate the notion that this marketing technique is blatantly exploiting them. In some ways this represents the worst of us. Terms like “need for disclosure” and “shill” come to mind.