Sunday, December 16, 2007

Webkitz, 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- children must buy a Webkitz toy that comes with a special code. But apparently using the site to sell millions of Webkitz stuffed animals wasn't enough for Ganz (the makers of Webkitz), 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 Webkitz 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' well being.

The 'Parents' Area' of Webkitz does not mention that the site now includes advertising. Webkitz is currently marketing the film Alvin and the Chipmunks. In addition to banner ads, the site is encouraging young users to actively engage with the movie by purchasing specially designed chipmunk costumes and food for their virtual pets. Bee Movie -a film that partnered with McDonald's , General Mills and Brachs', and has dozens of licensed products-was promoted in a similar way.

As children spend more and more time on the web., they are increasingly targeted by internet marketing. Webkitz's decision to take outside ads is reminiscent of Neopets, another popular online destination for children which went from being ad-free to including product placement on their site for McDonald's and other brands as well as launching their own line of cereal. the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is launching a media campaign (including a story in the New York Times) to inform parents about advertising on Webkitz and to convince Gatz to end it. To read more and to join this campaign go to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood website.

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