Just like their parents do in real life, young citizens of the Whyville virtual world can now go into debt to drive a cool car, thanks to Toyota and its Scion brand.
Besides the usual banner ads and billboards, Whyville works with marketers to integrate their brand into the virtual world. Brands can create their own venue or activity, build a branded advergame, and conduct market research. Toyota began selling its entry-level Scion brand in Whyville in May for a base price of 15,000 "clams," Whyville's virtual currency.
More than 1,200 Scions have been purchased in Whyville, and now users without enough clams to pay up front can get a virtual loan through Whyville's Club Scion and Toyota Financial Services (TFS). A virtual TFS advisor will walk users through the loan process, teaching them lessons about credit that they will later apply in the real world. Applicants are referred to online resources to learn about the details of financing, leasing, interest rates and credit.
Users even get a "WhyCO" score, analogous to the real-world FICO score that determines a person's credit rating. The WhyCO score is computed using similar criteria, such as income and net worth, as well as other factors like tenure as Whyville citizens and leadership role in the community. Citizens who do not qualify for a loan by themselves can get loans if they are co-signed by wealthier friends.
"We'd like to have educated customers down the road, and this program is a terrific opportunity to help tweens understand the process of financing a vehicle, everything from interest rates to FICO scores to repaying the loan," Maria Tirado, Toyota Financial Services' interactive marketing manager, said in a statement.
Whyvillians can customize their Scion with real-world and fantasy accessories. Once purchased, a virtual Scion owner can cruise around Whyville, picking up friends for a ride. Since May, users have gone on more than 140,000 rides in their cars.
"The Scions are a huge hit with our kids. They want cars! But most citizens just don't have enough clams. We've set up the motivation for them to learn what it means to take out a loan," Dr. Jen Sun, president of Whyville's parent Numedeon, said in a statement. "Educators and researchers know that students learn best when they really care about the topic. That's exactly what we try to do in Whyville."
Whyville's virtual world includes a newspaper, government, museums, and beaches. It also has its own economy, with "clams" for currency. Tween "citizens" of Whyville, most aged 8 to 15, can earn clams by taking part in ad-supported games or other activities on the site. The site has more than 1.7 million registered users, and adds another 60,000 each month.
This is one of many online campaigns for Scion. Last month, it launched a campaign using customizable ads from Interpolls, which let users change the content of the ad unit, such as finding the right Scion model to fit their personality by answering a question within the ad unit.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.
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