August 26, 2007

the social networkizing of mechandising (or the webkinizing of retail)

"Did you HEAR??" Jenna gets excited about 24 times each day, but this was one of those 'urgent news' type of yelps that made me ask, "About what?"

She proceeded to tell me that she needed a pound puppy, not a real one (this week), but one of the stuffed kind from the toy store. I told her I thought they had pound puppies back when her cousin Nick (now 25) was young. She told me they're new now--they come with a code you can enter to play with them online, just like Webkinz. Investigating, the only functionality I could see on the pound puppies site was an input form that lets you generate an adoption certificate. But I smell a social network in the winds. The landing page for pound puppies looks like the future entryway to pound puppyville, another virtual pet-owning experience coming soon to a parent's credit card near you.

We owe the resurreciton of the stuffed animal to social computing. If not for social networks, Webkinz would be another cute fad with a $12 price tag and a place on your child's bed. But nooo. Thanks to social spaces vying for our kids' attention, that same stuffed animal can live on ad infinitum, with complementary purchases like webkinz trading cards, waiting for your john hancock too.

Some tween-based social networks skip the merchandising part and go right to the trading cards. Case in point Bella Sara. Right now, it's a virtual world, using packs of trading cards as the merchandising element. I can only figure that Bella Sara is doing a "reverse webkinz," putting the trading cards (which have codes to purchase online clothing and tack for your online horse) out first with the stuffed rendition to follow. I'm sure a stuffed bella sara stallion is coming soon. I think I hear his hoofbeats. More ways to my wallet. Thank you internets!

Watching tweens on Webkinz and Bella Sara, I started wondering how smart companies will find that same sweet spot with adult consumers--a place where real-world point-of-sale drives the online experience.

What would the characteristics of that experience have to be:

1) something we are compelled to purchase.
2) something we enjoy playing with or using in the real world.
3) a replica of something real that can also be experienced virtually.

Perhaps the condoms of the future will come with a special code you can enter to frolic in an online adult world. In turn, the sites could offer special features and access to those with codes, driving future brand preference in condoms.

Same with clothing. Your jeans should come with your DenimWorld code emblazened on your back pocket. You use the code to dress your virtual self and hope that some hottie has been looking at your ass long enough to look you up in Denim City. In Denim City you participate in activities that generate points toward special features or future purchases. Maybe movie tickets for your real-world date from your virtual connection based on your realworld jeans.

I'm thinking out loud here.

Blame the steroids.