Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, online advertising, tween, web business

How to do this “kids entertainment thing” right

I was on a panel at GDC this year called “Monetization of teens in a safe and legal way.”  I was joking before the panel that it sounded like “How to make money off of kids.”  Then I found out that it was QUITE the controversial session pre-conference.  If only I would have known, folks, I would have spiced it up a bit more. 😉

But in reality, that’s what all of us in kids entertainment are doing – making our living from figuring out ways to get kids to like our stuff and have their parents/caregivers pay for it.  

Sounds insidious, but we ARE in a capitalist society.  If you are going to pick something to make money off of, kids entertainment is a pretty fun choice for your own work happiness levels.  And it IS possible to do it in a non-sinister way, with high integrity and keeping an eye on your ethics.  It’s easy – just make games/cartoons/toys that don’t suck.  

LOL right? But really – make products that kids will love AND their parents will love.  Parents will be more prone to not mind paying for your product for their kids if it’s beautiful, fun and their kids like it.  Add a layer of learning in there and you are good as gold.  Make any of those factors superficial or not focus on it at all, you are going to start to see that revenue/profit fall.

Of course, you will have to make it legally and safely too.  But these should be pretty “Duh!” statements, right?

Legal – It is not difficult to comply with the regulations.  You will get fined or shut down if you are doing things illegally, so figure out what features trigger what laws (or hire someone who can help you), then decide whether to comply or remove the feature.  Easy as that.

Safe –  It’s also not hard to make your game or toy safe, either.  Figure it out.  If you can’t, seriously, don’t make it at all.  If you aren’t safe, or don’t have that as a priority, why are you making things for children in the first place?  There are tons of other demographics you can work with who are less concerned with safety being a priority.  Go there and make your money.  Please.  Leave the kids space to those of us who care and will continue to bend over backwards to keep the kids safe – not because we have to, but because we want to and we feel it’s the right thing to do.  

Bonus advice: 
Stop busting the balls of the person(s) on your team who are fighting for these things.  Thank them for being that person and having that drive.  Don’t make it a hostile environment for someone to bring up those sorts of concerns.  If they are bringing it up, chances are one of your audience will too at some point, so consider it a fortuitous heads up, not annoying nuisance.  

And give that person a raise too while you are at it (or at least buy them lunch sometime).  Most of those people fighting for the underdog aren’t making the big bucks, so a little goes a long way.  🙂

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

COPPA/FTC- you make it so difficult to help you out

So I have a reputation as somewhat of a COPPA compliance warrior – so much so that my co-workers have been known to groan when I mention registration or database needs.  It’s an odd thing to have attributed to you, especially with no legal experience SLASH a general frustration with legal risk aversion in general.  But when you have been working on kids websites and communities for coming up on 15 years, you kinda get a hang for the ins and outs of the laws that surround it (or at least you SHOULD).

That’s the thing.  COPPA is required. It’s not a choice.  You have to comply.  If you don’t, you get in trouble – like super expensive trouble – in dollars and negative PR.  So you just do it.  I always find it odd when people brag about it or add it as a tagline to their branding.  It’s akin to saying – “My name’s Harry and just so you know, I definitely DON’T punch random strangers in the face.” Duh, Harry, but thanks for letting me know.

But COPPA compliance has become alot like speeding on the highway.  Many people obey the speed limit, but many more edge a bit over the line.  When they see a cop, they pull back and pretend that 55 is totes what they were driving the whole time. But then they inch back up to 65 or 70 the second they are in the clear.  I’ve heard some people actually see a speeding ticket every now and then as a valid cost of driving – a tax they are willing to budget for.

Much the same, companies have started inching over the compliance line on COPPA.  I actually have been in meetings with kids brand execs (NOT my current ones 😉 ) that considered having a slush fund set aside in case their was a sanction levied against them.  But even Pollyanna-well-intentioned brands sometimes find themselves inching toward or even over the COPPA line.  You know why?  Because it’s SUPER hard to comply to in the internet/digital culture that we are in right now.

COPPA was put in place to protect kiddos from nefarious marketers who wanted to sell personal info. It was not for predators or decency or to teach personal accountability in identity protection.  But, with our culture of fear, those are the things that people think it’s in place for.

Is it good that a byproduct of this rather draconian law imposed on site operators so they don’t profit from the sale of kids info, ALSO helps prevent kids from distributing personal details about themselves in public forums?  Maybe – but I’m not sure that that remote and avoidable byproduct outweighs the other hurdles the law imposes.

You see, the whole thing is predicated on parents being super engaged in their children’s online lives.  Ask a parent about this and they will undoubtedly say:

“YES! Of course, I want to know what is going on with my child online AND to help them make good decisions accordingly!  I am an amazing parent!”

This is evidenced in tons of surveys.  But do those surveys follow up with the parent (and I mean REALLY follow up – not just ask the parent in another survey) with a

“Ok, parent, but do you REALLY? Are you ACTUALLY the super engaged parent you painted yourself to be?”

Chances are, if that followup actually happened, the answer  would be dodged with an excuse about lack of time or understanding, lament of the speed of tech advancements or a bold faced lie.

Truth is that, anecdotally (albeit with my use-cases in the thousands), parents don’t know about COPPA and their assumed required involvement.  So we can demand verified parental consent til the cows come home, but if the parents don’t understand that is something that is needed, all the FTC is protecting is a child’s ingenuity to lie about their age, while simultaneously making it harder for an an ethical site operators to pay their staff while providing good content for kids.

Unless these impositions on the site operators are coupled with a robust (and effective) campaign to explain to parents WHY and HOW they need to be involved, COPPA is simply discouraging smaller brands away from quality content from kids, encouraging children and parents to learn truth-dodging techniques in registrations and forcing the nefarious operators deeper into the shadows to avoid detection.  Only bigger brands can afford the legal counsel needed to check that they are in the right.  The ones who can’t afford will simply not offer the content, or worse, slap a “over 13” stamp on it and skirt their responsibility.

The internet is based on communication channels – especially in the age of social media that is now the norm.  By starting from the false axiom of parental involvement and prohibiting use of the now standard means of communication until this involvement is verified, you are setting up either a web of lies OR limiting our next generations ability to learn how to use these channels correctly.  Both are horrible choices.

And don’t even get me started on how most of the mobile rules don’t even have a path to compliance…

Instead, we should flip the paradigm:

  • For the operators – we make the compliance voluntary and, therefore, honestly brag worthy.  Make it like shopping on a secure site – you get the security so that your customers feel safe.  If you don’t have that seal or badge or OK from the FTC, parents/kids would think twice before using their site.
  • For parents – we give them back their parenting responsibilities.  If they think their child shouldn’t be giving out info online, the parents should be punishing the children for breaking their house rules, not blaming the sites for making it too easy for their child to give out info.  And we should be helping parents understand this and how to do this – not assuming they are already there.
  • For kids – we teach them media awareness, basic stranger/danger skills and critical thinking.  If they aren’t ready for it – their parents shouldn’t be letting them use those sites – whether they are 8, 12, 15 or 17 years old.

I am not naive, I know this isn’t going to happen this year or even next.  But I am optimistic as to this happening at some point.  Until then, I will remain the compliance warrior, marching and marching on.  But I have 10 million+ kids and parents on my compliant site – so you better believe I’m gonna start the first steps toward a more rational model now.

Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, kids, marketing, online advertising, online community, television, trends, tween, virtual worlds, web business, Webkinz

My talk at Pratt

Hi All,

I was asked to do a short talk at Pratt Institute, so I decided to share my slides.  Basically I wanted to have a short visual aid to a myriad of mainstream, large and successful properties and brands that did/do well interacting and connecting with their audience through online community and fan engagement .

Let me know if you would like more info or examples or if you have any questions.

Posted in online advertising, online community, trends

COMMUNITY 2.0: INTEGRATING SOCIAL DESIGN INTO THE PRODUCTION PIPELINE

SPEAKER/S: Nathan Fouts (Mommy’s Best Games), Brian Jarrard (Bungie Studios), Ryan Schneider (Insomniac Games, Inc.), Dan Hsu (Bitmob.com) and Christian Arca (Toy Studio)

Unfortunately walked into this one halfway thru. Interesting conversation, tho, about the value of adding community in the Gaming industry. So cool to see them have the same conversations as other media industries were having a couple years ago. But they deal with it on such a more empirical level than other entertainment marketing people. Their more tech/science/math backgrounds give them a solid basis for defending

“Community is all about #’s”
– registered, active, posts,
– make formulas that prove community
– clicking link, then following, then memebers of comm

Community day – bring them in your studio

Actually connected with one of the speakers, Christian Arca, on twitter and then offline (another Chicago community person!). He’s written some interesting stuff on trying to measure community engagement (including a formula!)

Posted in marketing, online advertising, trends

Marketing Impact

So I have been thinking alot lately on marketing impact and promotional goals, especially in online media buys.  It’s the constant double edged sword:

  • Do you spend your money on the high traffic site that cost more but you know you will get more click-thrus, and therefore, more traffic to your site?
  • Or do you spend that money on a lower traffic site that will allow you to have a deeper engagement with the members of that community?

The ideal answer is YES or BOTH!  If you have the money, you should totally go for it, as you will get the benefit of traffic AND engagement of your brand.

But the Iron Triangle of project management looms large:

You rarely are able to have all three points of the triangle in any project.

So what do you do?  If you are lacking in resources (money, usually) make up for it in features.  But before you get all tactical, make sure you are clear on your project objectives.  Figure out what is your ultimate goal?

  • Is it to get tons of traffic? If your goals are about building awareness and this is but one of your plans in a long term campaign, put an ad on one of the “big guns” for tween traffic  – TV networks, gaming sites, etc.  Traffic is great and the more people see your ad on other sites then the more people you can get to your destination, the more brand awareness you spread.
  • Is it to get some great quotes for sales packages, etc? Then go to a smaller community that will be able to build a deeper, more immersive experience for the users.  Many times you can organize a community or world event and get the players talking either directly to you or about your brand.
  • Is it to maximize your spend? A targeted ad network might be a better idea for you.  You might not get an ad on the heavy hitters and you won’t get the engagement you would from a smaller site, but you can spread your brand around to more sites.  There are some great options out there to help you target collections of site within the demographic you are looking at.
  • Have you thought about offline engagement? It’s funny, but ever since the web came around, it becomes the only thing people can think about.  But TV still dominates most peoples lives.  And don’t discount the level of engagement that a well planned event sponsorship/promotion can have.

Other factors to consider in your choice include whether this is a one time campaign or part of a larger strategy, what sorts of users you are looking for, whether you are looking for awareness, conversions or something else.

At the end of the day, it’s a question of priorities and choice.  It’s best to weigh all of your options and objectives before jumping into implementing tactics.

Turns out, this is good advice for your non-work situations as well. 🙂

Posted in kids, marketing, online advertising, online community, Safety/Privacy, virtual worlds, web business

2 golden nuggets from Liisa’s firm

Maine Kid’s Privacy Law Takes Effect September 12

As we have previously reported, the Maine governor signed a new law that: (1) puts an absolute prohibition on using personal information of a minor to market to the minor or to promote any course of action regarding a product to a minor – whether parental permission has been obtained or not and whether you know the person’s age or not; and (2) prohibits knowingly collecting personal information from children in Maine under 18 for “marketing purposes,” without first obtaining parental consent. The prohibited activity of using a minor’s personal information seems to be broadly drafted, and may include not just email and text messages sent to children in Maine – including those between 13 and 17, but also marketing messages sent directly to a child through social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s possible that it could also prohibit analyzing and internally using a minor’s personal information to determine how to market to individuals generally. The prohibition on collecting information for “marketing purpose” is similarly broad. Unfortunately, the exact meaning of the law is subject to multiple interpretations. The law allows not only for the Maine Attorney General to bring actions for violations, but also allows for a private right of action. Although many have objected to the law, an immediate delay or modification does not appear on the horizon. TIP: If you have an ongoing promotion, consider how you will address the eligibility requirements (for example, prohibiting all persons under 18, persons from the state of Maine who are under 18, voiding to Maine residents, or having a verifiable parental consent mechanism). If you do not currently collect date of birth for your marketing activities, consider doing so, or voiding Maine residents. For your existing database, consider separating out those who are under 18 and reside in Maine, and be sure not to send marketing materials to them.

For more tips, see our bulletin at: http://www.winston.com/siteFiles/Publications/4_ME_Tips.html.

Linking to a Non-Compliant Website Is a Violation of CARU Guidelines

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”) recently found that Kidz Bop LLC violated the CARU Guidelines when it contained a link on the Kidz Bop website to a website which allowed the collection of personally identifiable information from children without fully complying with CARU guidelines. The non-compliant website did not implement a neutral age-screening mechanism to filter children under 13, and various areas of the site collected personally identifiable information. CARU found that Kidz Bop could reasonably expect children under 13 to visit their website and CARU guidelines specifically provide that operators of websites which are for children or contain areas for children should not knowingly link to other websites that do not comply with CARU guidelines. In addition, the Kidz Bop website privacy policy did not include Kidz Bop’s contact information, as required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

TIP: If you operate a website which is likely to appeal to children under the age of 13, ensure that your website is compliant with CARU Guidelines, including removing any links to websites which you know are not in compliance with the Guidelines.

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http://www.winston.com/index.cfm?contentid=170

Posted in marketing, online advertising

Weezer’s Pork and Beans Video

Gotta love this.  An homage to viral video makers, by having them in the video (see if you can spot them all), and launching it virally before the album.  Yay Weezer.  Added 2 days ago and already at 1.6 million views.  I heart the internet.