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NeoPets connects kids and brands on-line

It's a no-brainer that the stickiest approach to making brand connections with kids on-line is through interactivity. But the challenge of creating web activities that are fun enough to reel kids in voluntarily and branded enough to make a lasting marketing impression can be daunting. Luckily for kids advertisers, NeoPets is on the case to make the whole thing a cinch.
August 1, 2003

It’s a no-brainer that the stickiest approach to making brand connections with kids on-line is through interactivity. But the challenge of creating web activities that are fun enough to reel kids in voluntarily and branded enough to make a lasting marketing impression can be daunting. Luckily for kids advertisers, NeoPets is on the case to make the whole thing a cinch.

Since early 2000, the on-line pet community has been working with an A-list roster of kids advertisers (including McDonald’s, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Kraft, Disney, Hasbro, Mattel and Kellogg) on immersive advertising packages (ranging from US$20,000 to US$120,000 per month) that make branded games and activities an integral part of the website’s fabric.

Since Neopoint collection is a prime activity for kid visitors (the currency enables kids to buy and sell food and other items), NeoPets offers up points to kids who participate in sponsored activities that run the gamut from watching a Finding Nemo trailer in the Disney Theater, to playing a branded game like Cheetos Chase, to buying their pet a Big Mac or some SweetTarts.

And the best part of the deal is that NeoPets does all the work. ‘The art and activities are produced by NeoPets so they fit in thematically with the site, which means we have to be very familiar with a company’s products, characters and campaign goals & initiatives,’ says Stephanie Yost Cameron, NeoPets VP and overseer of child safety on the site. ‘In essence, we become both an ad agency and a media delivery vehicle.’

Equally appealing is the site’s penetration. NeoPets is on track to have 60 million registered users by year’s end. And according to Nielsen//NetRatings from December 2002, at-home users spend an average 4.5 minutes on www.neopets.com each visit, beating out all other sites on the Internet (with the exception of web-based applications like MSN Messenger).

The company can also target by region and cross-promote licensed NeoPets products on the site – putting a secret code on a hangtag, for example. Earlier this year, the company ran this kind of promotion with tween apparel retailer Limited Too and accessories chain Claire’s to alert users to in-store promotions in their area.

Now, for those of you who think a Blumaroo is something fizzy you’d order at a Don Ho concert, the basic idea for the NeoPets community is simple. Kids create a free account and choose a pet from 46 species. Then they’re ready to feed and play with their pet and explore the imaginary world of Neopia, interacting with other pets/owners and collecting Neopoints.

NeoPets has targeted Asia as its next expansion region based on the amount of activity coming from Singapore (where much of the population speaks English). With just four million inhabitants, the country is responsible for one million registrations on the English-language site – a full 4% of NeoPets’ total on-line community.

In early July, the company launched a Japanese version of the site, with Chinese (simplified and traditional, early Q4) and Korean (early 2004) versions to follow. Europe will be up next, with Spanish, French, German and Italian versions rolling out later next year.

NeoPets has also partnered with Index Corp., one of Japan’s major mobile telephone content providers, to get a mobile site up and running to meet the voracious appetite for mobile connectivity in the Asian market.

In terms of off-line development, NeoPets has been slowly building its characters into a full-on property, partnering with Hasbro and Thinkway on toys, Sony on a video game slated for release in Q4, and Wizards of the Coast on a fall-launching trading card game. Kinney says the company is in talks with studios about a movie and a TV show, but these projects will not likely get underway until 2006.

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