The BBC called me recently and asked me to appear on the breakfast show on one of their local radio stations, Radio Solent in Southampton. I was to be interviewed about the psychology behind the fascination with virtual pets – the kind of “animal” you can create and care for at a web site. The interview seemed to go well, we had some fun with the subject and I got my message across that children should be allowed to engage with such activities, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Now, I was reminded of this interview when I opened “Business 2.0” magazine. This had an article about Internet Marketing which made the point that there is a huge child and teenage market “out there” which several marketers miss. Indeed, the number of children accessing Webkinz – a virtual pet web site – is immense, but more importantly they represent a $40billion market. But even more importantly than this is the time these children engage with the site. They spend on average two hours and eight minutes per visit. This gives marketers a huge time with each customer. The so-called Internet phenomenon of YouTube only manages to engage people for 31 minutes per visit. In other words, Webkinz is about five times as popular as YouTube. This just goes to show that sometimes the euphoria over one Internet idea can be overshadowed by something we don’t know much about. Looking at the “obvious” may not always be the right thing to do.

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