Monday, November 26, 2007

Teen Survey of preferences

Where do they learn about cool, new products?

The interweb, of course (65 percent)

Friends come next (62 percent)

TV commercials third (54 percent)

We know they're headed to the malls (95 percent), but which stores are they going to?

Electronics (46 percent)

Bath & body (45 percent)

Music (surprise. surprise.) (41 percent)

Who gets the most of teens' hard earned money? ($100 or more)

Their sweetie (28 percent)

Mom and dad (20 percent)

Grandma and grandpa (18 percent)

What do they want most?

Money! (39 percent)

Laptop or desktop computer (30 percent)

Clothes (25 percent)

A new car! (24 percent)

If they could ask for just one gift, it would be:

Laptop/desktop computer (15 percent)

Money (12 percent)

Car (11 percent)

And as for the brands they want?

When specifically asked about brands, Apple was the most
cited brand in the music technology category, Dell was ranked #1 for
computers/laptops, the Motorola RAZR phone led the mobile phone
category, and Microsoft’s X-Box 360 was the leading video game console,
while Halo 3 was the leading video game. Abercrombie and Fitch was the
clothing brand most teens say they want and when it comes to cars, Ford
and Cheverolet brands were most cited.

I'm surprised by the RAZR vs. the iPhone and by American auto brands
vs. Toyota and Honda. The biggest take away is that eCommerce still as
a long way to go in attracting teens because of credit cards/payment
and they view shopping as a social activity they do with their friends
at the mall. The exceptions would be for online retailers selling
something you can't find offline. Obviously teens check out retail
websites to find what they want, but they are still buying it in

Update: Weekly Reader also surveyed tweens and teens 8-17 on which consoles and games they wanted and found...

Eight of 10 children said they would ask for a video game;
the five favorites, the survey found, are Guitar Hero, Mario Party DS,
Super Mario Galaxy, My Sims and Halo 3.

And nearly six out of 10 (59%) intend to ask for a console game
system as a holiday gift. Most popular? The Nintendo Wii (32% plan to
ask for it), followed by the Sony PlayStation 3 (19%) and Microsoft
Xbox 360 (17%).

Article Link

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

What kids learn in virtual worlds

Doug Thomas, associate professor at USC's Annenberg School of
Communication, said during the panel that much of what's happening in
virtual environments is informal learning. In many cases, kids are
getting an early education with technology, learning how to be members
of a citizenship, and picking up skills that they'll need in the future
workforce, Thomas said.

The downside, he said, is the inherently commercial nature of virtual worlds like Club Penguin and Webkinz,
which encourage kids to play games, dress up online characters, and buy
virtual goods to decorate their in-world homes or avatars.

"If you're a parent, I would be much less concerned about things
like online predators or violence, then I would be about the conflation
between consumption and consumerism and citizenship (in virtual
worlds). Because our kids are being taught that to be a good citizen of
this world you got to buy the right stuff," Thomas said during the
panel, which was being simulcast via video over the Internet.

The panel came together to talk about the promise and pitfalls of virtual worlds from an educational and commercial viewpoint. Virtual games like Club Penguin and Webkinz
have become much more popular with 6- to 14-year-olds in the last two
years, attracting tens of millions of members. Researchers estimate
that more than 50 percent of kids on the Internet will belong to such
an environment by 2012, double that of the current population of
virtual world members.

Meanwhile, many educators herald virtual environments for their
educational potential because they manage to get kids extremely
engaged. Thomas, for example, works with kids in an educational virtual
world called Modern Prometheus.
He said the environment is useful for teaching children about subjects
that can be difficult to teach in the classroom, such as ethics. The
game allows the kids to play out scenarios involving ethical decisions
over and over from different angles, letting them see the various
effects, he said.

Most people in America still haven't even heard of virtual worlds,
but that's changing, said Julia Stasch, vice president for domestic
grant-making at MacArthur. This generation is the first to grow up
digital and everyone needs to be paying attention to what kids
themselves have to say, Stasch said.

Bullying, racism, homophobia, every cultural ill is replicated in
virtual worlds," Thomas said. "If you went to any sixth grade class and
studied it for a year, all the good, bad, and ugly shows up in a
virtual world just like every class, and we should all be mindful of

Article Link

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Monday, November 19, 2007

U.S. Teens Spending Power for Crucial Holiday Season Could Bode Well for Traditional Retailers

Where do you learn about                                     Total
cool new products? Teens

Internet 65 %
Friends 62 %
Commercials on TV 54 %
Magazines 48 %
TV shows 38 %
Shopping 38 %
Movies 29 %
Ads in theatres before the movie 21 %
Siblings 21 %
Parents 19 %
Celebrities 14 %
Other 2 %
None of the above 5 %

Please tell us how/where Total
you plan to shop this holiday Teens

Electronics store 46 %
Bath/body store 45 %
Music store 41 %
Chain clothing store 38 %
Mass merchandise store 37 %
Accessory store 35 %
Department store 35 %
Bookstore 35 %
Sporting goods store 29 %
Athletic shoe store 26 %
Video store 25 %
Pet supply store 24 %
Cell phone/wireless store 23 %
Discount chain store 18 %
Specialty/local boutique 13 %
Store websites 13 %
Through a catalog or mail order 12 %
Home improvement/decorating store 12 %
Online store 12 %
Thrift/secondhand/vintage store 8 %
Supermarket/food store 8 %
Online auction site 8 %
Drugstore 4 %
Convenience store 4 %
Home shopping Network/QVC 3 %

Plan to spend "$100 or Total
more" of my own money on: Teens

Boyfriend/Girlfriend 28 %
Parents 20 %
Grandparents 18 %
Boss 17 %
Nieces/Nephews 15 %
Siblings 13 %
Aunts, Uncles or Cousins 13 %
Co-workers (other than boss) 11 %
Teachers 11 %
Pets 9 %
Best Friend 9 %
Classmates 9 %
Secret Santa(s) 8 %

Article Link
Other friends 7 %
Other 9 %

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

"The Pleo Song" takes our breath away

It's no secret: songs about gadgets are a scourge upon the earth.
And that's why they're awesome. The latest of these little ditties
that'll have you humming in the shower tomorrow morning -- and raving
like a lunatic the day after -- is "The Pleo Song," courtesy of
RobotsRule. The song was written to celebrate Ugobe's announcement of
30 day shipping notices for Pleo,
which we suppose is as good an excuse as any to write a gratingly bad
song about a robotic dinosaur. "Remember the heart of a child knows
that love goes with Pleo." If you still think you can stomach it after
that little teaser, the YouTube version is after the break.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Virtual Fun And Games

Virtual worlds that cater to kids and teens in a safe, low-tech
environment are experiencing the biggest surge in population growth.
Korea's Cyworld, which also has a U.S. outpost, gets monthly return
visits from more than 15 million young adults who decorate online rooms
and spend and earn "acorns" on the site. Finnish Habbo Hotel attracts a
similar crowd with its tiny, pixelated people. Disney


endorsed the notion of virtual worlds for kids when it scooped up Club
Penguin for $350 million in August 2007. That site claims 12 million
active users. Analyst firm eMarketer predicts that by 2011, 53% of U.S.
Internet-visiting kids and teens--or about 20 million people--will go
to virtual worlds regularly.

Article Link

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Conversational marketing

The first step for brands to socialise with consumers is to start
profile pages on social networks and then accept “friend requests” from
individuals. On MySpace, brands have been doing this for a while. For
instance, Warner Bros, a Hollywood studio, had a MySpace page for
“300”, its film about Spartan warriors. It signed up some 200,000
friends, who watched trailers, talked the film up before its release,
and counted down toward its DVD release.

Facebook, from this week, also lets brands create their own pages.
Coca-Cola, for instance, has a Sprite page and a “Sprite Sips” game
that lets users play with a little animated character on their own
pages. Facebook makes this a social act by automatically informing the
player's friends, via tiny “news feed” alerts, of the fun in progress.
Thus, at least in theory, a Sprite “experience” can travel through an
entire group, just as Messrs Lazarsfeld and Katz once described in the
offline world.

In many cases, Facebook users can also treat brands' pages like
those of other friends, by adding reviews, photos or comments, say.
Each of these actions might again be communicated instantly to the news
feeds of their clique. Obviously this is a double-edged sword, since
they can just as easily criticise a brand as praise it.

Facebook even plans to monitor and use actions beyond its own site
to place them in a social context. If, for instance, a Facebook user
makes a purchase at Fandango,
a website that sells cinema tickets, this information again shows up on
the news feeds of his friends on Facebook, who might decide to come
along. If he buys a book or shirt on another site, then this implicit
recommendation pops up too.

Article Link (The Economist)

Robot Consumers, Grow Up!

Part of the problem is the Western world's relatively short history with robots.

[...] robots (or at
least automatons) have been part of the Japanese culture for hundreds
of years. They're seen as friends, helpers, entertainers, and
companions. They've always resembled their creators.

What Sony didn't anticipate, [...] was its
target market's antipathy toward home robots. The more powerful and
realistic AIBO became (the final version, the ERS-7, looked remarkably
like a plastic-covered dog), the less interest Americans showed.
American consumers fixate on anthropomorphism and generally find
androids and even android pets grotesque. You won't find a lifelike
robot receptionist in the U.S., but there are already many at work in

There's an obvious comfort level with the now five-year-old iRobot Roomba
vacuum cleaner. It doesn't look like us or any of our pets. We
understand that there is some intelligence in there, but we are not
threatened by it.

Ironically, Americans also have a fascination with
robots that look and act like real, living things. David Hanson, for
instance, often receives broad, laudatory media coverage for his
Frubber-faced Einstein robot. Now he's working on Zeno, an Astro Boy–like automaton
that will have a Frubber face and offer real social interaction.
Release is a year or more away, and who knows how much the company will
have to charge. I worry about the product's viability in this

American robot consumers have yet to comprehend
the cost of the programming and mechanical complexity necessary to
create effective, realistic, interactive robots.

Hasbro, however, may have found the formula for
success in the U.S. The company has been building functionally limited,
successful FurReal friends for years [...].
The products have canned interactions, never learn, and usually cost
less than $70. They also look quite realistic. The lower price point
seems to help parents overcome their hesitation, and they usually wind
up bringing home a Hasbro robotic pet for the holidays.

$149 Robopanda,
is its most sophisticated offering and could prove the least successful
in the U.S. Again, it straddles the line between engagement and

erhaps Americans' inability to accept complex
robotics has something to do with our tendency to generate emotional
attachments to inanimate objects. We shower our cars, homes, and boats
with the affection we should be directing to, say, our children. Add
just a touch of intelligence and interaction and our engagement
increases exponentially.

Of course, the challenge is on both American
consumers who can't handle the idea of anthropomorphic robotics and the
engineers who spend their lives inside university laboratories and have
no idea how consumers will respond to their life's work.

The consumer robotics market is not going to
explode. American consumers simply aren't mature enough. Instead, the
future of robotics will, for the next decade or so, be a story of
embedded technologies.

Article Link (PCMag)

Millions of toys recalled; contain 'date rape' drug

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled
from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they
contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when
ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were
hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

With only seven weeks
until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry --
already bruised by a slew of recalls this past summer.

the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular
holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. They are
called Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year at
an industry function earlier this year.

It could not immediately
be learned whether Aqua Dots beads are made in the same factories as
the Bindeez product. Both are sold by Australia-based Moose Enterprises.

toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet
for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs
and fused together when sprayed with water.

Scientists say a
chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the
so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the
compound -- made from common and easily available ingredients -- can
induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

Gunja from Australia's Poisons Information Center said the drug's
effect on children was "quite serious ... and potentially

The recall was announced by the Consumer
Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published
reports about the recall in Australia.

The two U.S. children who
swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission
spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday afternoon.

In Australia,
the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday when officials
learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized
after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being

The news jolted the toy industry because Aqua Dots has
been one of the few bright stars of the toy selling season, which,
along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start. The
item, which had been heavily advertised, had appeared on many toy
experts' list of must-have holiday toys, and toy sellers are now in the
midst of canceling advertising and scrambling to figure out how to
replace it.

Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, noted
that the incidents could have been isolated, and Spin Master may be
erring on the side of caution.

"This is something that they could not have foreseen. This is an extremely hot toy. ... It's a little scary," Byrne said.

Article Link

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

i-SOBOT debuts without TV spots

Toddler-toy maker Tomy takes a stab at online marketing
tactics to introduce its tiny toy robot.


The Orange County Register
Comments 0| Recommend

With no plans to spend a penny on TV commercials, Santa
Ana's Tomy Corp. is betting its new i-SOBOT will capture the hearts and
wallets of Americans and become one of the hottest toys this holiday.

The $300 robot, being unveiled today, has gained a following
thanks to a strategic Internet campaign. Tomy's marketing gurus targeted blogs
and Web sites. Popular gadget sites, such as Engadget and Gizmodo, have been
keeping tabs on its progress all year. I-SOBOT even has a MySpace page with 161

But it's not just the geek community that's curious. The
6.5-inch, bipedal mechanical creature attracted retail attention as well.
Neiman Marcus won the rights to sell i-SOBOT exclusively in September
before other retailers. Other stores, including Amazon and eToys,
began taking pre-orders last month and have since asked Tomy for more after
selling out of initial allotments. Sharper Image stores are featuring it
as one of its top tech toys.

Not bad for a company that previously made only toys for

"Tomy's always been known as a preschool toy company, but
we've been expanding into electronics," said Sandra Leo, Tomy's senior marketing
manager. "We really had to look at the best way to market (i-SOBOT). We wanted
to do more untraditional marketing, like blogs, MySpace and robot

Even at the official news conference this afternoon, Tomy is
testing a new tactic. It's inviting consumers not only to listen to the Webcast
but ask questions at If the campaign works, it will save
Tomy a lot of money.

"Usually, traditional marketing with TV can be a couple of
million of dollars depending on the campaign," Leo said. "Based on the
nontraditional marketing approach TOMY is taking by reaching consumers through
limited print, online, word of mouth, and the news conference, TOMY will spend
approximately between $200,000 to $400,000 – much less than traditional
marketing with TV."

Japanese parent Tomy Co. Ltd. spent two years
developing i-SOBOT. An American version was tweaked for the U.S. consumer. Leo
said the local office gave it a sense of humor. i-SOBOT will crack jokes, tell
you that you smell funny, act drunk and imitate Dirty Harry's infamous line "Go
ahead, make my day."

American consumers are getting their hands on i-SOBOT before
the Japanese. Tomy's local office wanted the robot in time for Christmas.
Retailers in Japan don't depend on the holiday season as much as U.S. retailers.
So the Omnibot, as it's called in Japan, will hit stores there a month

Tomy didn't have to do too much marketing. The buzz about
i-SOBOT is that it's a bipedal robot that comes pre-assembled and ready to play
with. And it doesn't cost thousands of dollars.

The diminutive i-SOBOT is packed with technology: 17
custom-developed servo motors, 19 integrated circuit chips, a gyro-sensor, two
LEDs and software. It sings, dances, does somersaults and karate chops, plays
air guitar and balances on one leg. Using an infrared remote control, users can
tell the i-SOBOT what to do by typing in up to 200 preprogrammed

"We're not calling it a toy. It's more of an electronics
gadget," Leo said.

Robots have long amused hobbyists and the tech crowd. But
they usually had to be built by the user and could cost thousands of dollars,
like the late Sony Aibo dog robot, which retailed for $1,500. On the other
extreme, toy robots were merely play things with blinking lights and limited

A new breed of robots, such as WowWee's Robosapien,
has sprung up in recent years. They have bumped up the technology of toy robots
and are priced in the more affordable hundred-dollar range.

While that's higher than the typical toy, price doesn't
always matter, said Anita Frazier, an analyst who tracks toys and video games
for market researcher NPD Group.

"The price points for these items are higher – but that
hasn't stood in the way of their success. While toy companies traditionally have
shied away from higher price points, in recent years it has been proven that if
a toy is innovative enough and interesting enough to kids then it can succeed no
matter what the price," Frazier said.

These "interactive robotic playmates," as Fraiser calls
them, are just a smidgen of the $22 billion toy industry. But their sales record
makes them one of the fastest-growing toy categories. Last year, sales reached
$262 million, up 43 percent from the prior year's $183 million, according to

"The numbers tell the story. This category has been hot in
recent years. It's a small category but it's been growing like gangbusters," she

Whether consumers will bite on the $300-plus price tag
remains to be seen.

Sharper Image, known for showcasing robots and other tech
toys, told Tomy that i-SOBOT is probably priced too low. The retailer's other
new robots this year include the $350 Pleo baby dinosaur from Ugobe, the
$120 R2-D2 droid from Star Wars and WowWee's singing Robopanda Interactive Robot
for $150.

Sales have pleased Neiman Marcus, said Ginger Reeder,
spokeswoman for the department store. i-SOBOT has been available for sale only
at Nieman's, known for carrying hundreds of exclusive products at any given

"It's a great product and that's what we look for. And we
thought it would be a fun gift," Reeder said. "The bottom line is we look for
the best."

If pre-orders mean anything, Tomy is hopeful. Retailers who
have been taking pre-orders have sold out and asked Tomy for more.

"The initial shipment to the U.S. is 15,000 units, but
production has been ramped up due to overwhelming demand and an additional
135,000 units should arrive prior to year-end," Leo said.

Sharper Image is pretty confident the robots will

"Robots and tech toys rule this season," said Cori Zywotow
Rice, Sharper Image spokeswoman. "It's predominantly driven by the consumer
whose desire is to interact with products that will allow them to escape,
fantasize and have fun. It's interesting. Fuzzy slippers and plush toys that
don't have sound chips and sensors have really become wants of the

Article Link

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QRIO befriended by toddlers in study

Remember that study
which placed a bubbly QRIO in the middle of rambunctious 18- to
24-month old kids in order to better analyze human-robot interactions?
We know, it's probably coming back ever so slowly, but regardless, the
findings of the five month trial have finally been published, and the
results are less than shocking. Essentially, researchers noticed that
children learned to treat the QRIO as if it were another human; the
Earthlings eventually felt comfortable touching its hands, covering it
with a blanket when it laid down and helping it back up if it toppled
over. Notably, kiddos even went so far as to shun the poor bot when it
was programmed to dance nonstop, but they forgave the bizarre antics
and continued to play nice once the jig was up. The crew involved with
the research is now focusing on the development of autonomous bots for
the toddler classroom, and while much more testing will likely be done
before any conclusions are definitively drawn, results from this go
'round sure hinted at just how susceptible we are to robotic takeover, er, playing nice with harmless androids. Oh, and be sure and check the video after the break!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

UGOBE's Pleo enters production, software updates already promised

With just weeks to go until Americans everywhere lose their minds in
the holiday shopping rush, UGOBE is announcing that its long (long) awaited Pleo is finally hitting the production line. Furthermore, the company insists that those who pre-ordered the dinobot directly from UGOBE will receive a 30-day shipment notification "before Thanksgiving," and those who placed their order with "any US retailer" will have their new
toy before December 25th. In case that's not enough to win back your heart,
you can also look forward to a revamped website next month that will
allow owners to download a "surprise mode" for their creature. Speaking
of downloads, those wondering if this thing really will be able to
"learn and develop a unique personality based on how it is raised" can
anticipate "free software updates" aimed at enabling that feature (and possibly others) sometime next year.
Article Link (Engadget)