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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ads Woven Into Virtual Worlds - But Are Kids Ready?

Gives new meaning to "Warp and Weft"

In the tapestry of a virtual world, the finer the weave, the more powerfully real the experience. And when that weave includes expertly integrated advertising, it's time to ask some hard questions.

Stephanie Olsen of CNet News explores this ground in her October 16th article, "Are Kids Ready for Ads in Virtual Worlds?" Olsen reports from the Virtual Worlds conference and expo held in San Jose last week.

The news is intriguing and alarming.

Virtual worlds mean different things to different constituencies. To adults, virtual worlds are playgrounds of escape and fantasy.

To kids, who have grown up with no notion of "before the Internet", they're just a part of the fabric of THE reality. Virtual worlds aren't virtual reality -- they ARE reality, just as much as conversing by cell phone or chatting on line.

And, to advertisers, they're a chance to embed a product or brand message into an immersive experience.

Two snips from Olsen's article leaped out at me:
"This kind of marketing is designed to operate at a subconscious level. And kids don't know how to think critically about how someone's trying to get them to be loyal to a brand or buy their products," said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor in the School of Communication at American University and author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce and Childhood in the Age of the Internet."

"This is a very powerful medium for marketing because it involves this huge engagement. It's more powerful than a sugar cereal commercial," said Bob Bowers, CEO of Numedeon, whose Whyville members spend about three and a half hours a month on the virtual world.

The challenge for parents in this media-dense (media-infested?) age is that everywhere we turn, somebody is trying to hook the attention of our children, and each one of those somebodies typically cares more about their revenue stream than about our kids mental, social, or moral development (see "Ten is the new Fifteen"). As our kids venture into virtual worlds, those somebodies will have even more opportunity to attach their messages to our kids' minds.

With kids, the ability to distinguish between truth and manipulation is limited. Kids inherently "trust" more than adults do. As they explore virtual worlds -- generally on their own, without a parent by their virtual side -- they'll be engaging in experiences that are crafted by advertisers.

Immersive advertising is much more powerful than anything we've experienced to date, especially when targeted toward kids. This new and powerful toolkit hands advertisers the ability to shape (and warp!) our childrens' view of reality much more effectively than ever before.

It's a brave new world. Olsen quotes Jason Root, vice president of digital for Nickelodeon's, who showed both enthusiasm and admirable (for now) restraint:
"We've had no advertising since we launched, (but we're) on the cusp of interesting advertising developments, and we're evolving with that. We're going to have a great immersive experience both with kids and advertisers,"

Olsen reports that is being cautious, ensuring that ads are clearly marked. I hope that discipline lasts, and I hope "clearly marked" really means "CLEARLY Marked". But how do you make an ad obvious to a 5-year-old?

Ultimatly, Root admitted that: to kids in virtual worlds is a gray area and "it's only getting grayer."

Grayer indeed. My hair is getting grayer by the minute.


  • I saw the comments about gray at the end, along with the seemingly haphazard use of bold text. I think you will enjoy the lyrics of "Shades of Gray" by The Monkees. I imagine you will especially like the chorus.

    When the world and I were young,
    Just yesterday.
    Live was such a simple game,
    A child could play.
    It was easy then to tell right from wrong.
    Easy then to tell weak from strong.
    When a man should stand and fight,
    Or just go along.

    But today there is no day or night
    Today there is no dark or light.
    Today there is no black or white,
    Only shades of gray.

    I remember when the answers seemed so clear
    We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear.
    It was easy then to tell truth from lies
    Selling out from compromise
    Who to love and who to hate,
    The foolish from the wise.

    But today there is no day or night
    Today there is no dark or light.
    Today there is no black or white,
    Only shades of gray.

    [instumental interlude]

    It was easy then to know what was fair
    When to keep and when to share.
    How much to protect your heart
    And how much to care.

    But today there is no day or night
    Today there is no dark or light.
    Today there is no black or white,
    Only shades of gray.
    Only shades of gray.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 14, 2007 3:10 PM  

  • lu~ khon' nan.
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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 02, 2008 11:08 PM  


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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 28, 2009 11:00 PM  

  • yes it's very challenging for kids to determine the meaning of virtual words.

    By Anonymous CitySitter, at March 30, 2011 12:31 AM  

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