Girls’ Retailer Builds Virtual World for Tweens

Children looking to escape reality can add another virtual world to their rapidly increasing list of options: ScapeNation, an interactive online universe brought to you by girls’ clothing retailer Justice.

Red Tettemer, an independent creative shop in Philadelphia, created ScapeNation, which went live in February.

“Justice has grown up as a brick-and-mortar retail experience for early teen girls, and they realized that to continue to engage that audience and interest them, and keep them involved in their brand, they needed to kind of expand their horizon and get into the digital space,” said Steve Red, president and chief creative officer of Red Tettemer.

Justice, which is owned by Tween Brands, plans extensive tie-ins between the virtual world and its real-life stores. Its more than 900 locations across the U.S. are now selling trading cards and gift cards that familiarize children with the characters, as well as “Scape Bucks,” which children can use to purchase items online to outfit their virtual homes or avatars. The store also has plans to merchandise products based on the characters.

“We can push that group to ScapeNation and then, once they’re in Scape, we can push them back to the stores, creating this cycle of success,” Red said.

The agency claims more than 60,000 children have signed up since the site went live. Use of the site is free and there is no advertising (for now). The only way ScapeNation makes money is through micro transactions involving the Scape Bucks, though the company does hope to eventually make the site a viable revenue stream.

The story behind ScapeNation is typically simple for a virtual world: It was once a happy place until “Darkness” struck, rending it into six separate islands, all sad. To make ScapeNation whole again, children need to sign on and play games, have adventures, chat with one another, and spend their Scape Bucks.

One major challenge facing ScapeNation is the fact that Justice is a girls’ brand, but the company wants to make Scape a gender-neutral place. Tettemer said outreach directly to the boys market would launch in the coming months, but for now it was “depending on the sister-brother relationship” to bring them in.

“We purposely made the world not juvenile and not too girly, and one of the things that allowed us some flexibility is the whole idea that there are six islands, so we can actually have islands that relate to certain likes and dislikes,” Red said. “We can have a shopping island that can skew girl and have a gaming island that can skew boy.”

A more obvious challenge is the sheer number of virtual worlds popping up in recent years that target the pre-teen or elementary school audience, including Webkinz, Club Penguin, Ridemakerz, and Stardoll.

But Justice clearly sees the boom in such worlds as a reason to be optimistic rather than fear being lost in the crowd.

“We didn’t want to tiptoe into this space,” Scott Bracale, president of marketing, direct and international of Tween Brands, said in a written statement. “Our goal was to build one of the ultimate, aspirational SVNs for Tweens. We’re excited about the launch of ScapeNation, but we’re even more excited about creating this new level of customer engagement.”

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