But girls interactive entertainment company Purple Moon, Mountain View, Calif., thinks it's found a way to do it without setting off alarms. The entertainment company, which targets girls 8 to 12, has launched a sponsorship program and signed Sea World for a promotion.
Running in July, the Sea World Treasure Trove promotion will brand the various animated treasures girls find on the site and trade among themselves. It includes a sponsored area on the Purple Moon site (www.purple-moon.com), and a trip for four to Sea World. It also fits nicely with Purple Moon's upcoming CD-ROM release "Secret Paths to the Sea," which will be sold at Sea World.
Amy Robinson, senior manager-online brand management and business development at Purple Moon, said it has been testing the sponsorship model with Bonne Bell, which makes Lip Smackers lip gloss.
"The main goal is integrating sponsors into this immersive experience," Ms. Robinson said, noting that it is also selling sponsorships of the votes that take place on the site, scavenger hunts and other customized promotions. But you won't find banner ads on Purple Moon. "We really want [advertising] to be adding value to the girls' experience," she said.
TRADING BRANDED ICONS
With the Bonne Bell-branded treasures, the company has found girls ask each other for the animated icons, and have continued to trade and collect them after the promotion was over, Ms. Robinson added.
"It's a way a sponsor's brand becomes the talk of the site."
Sponsorships sell for $15,000 a month, with a guaranteed 450,000 impressions. Since the site and CD-ROMs were launched in September, 75,000 girls have registered for the site and traded more than 1.5 million treasures
SELLING MERCHANDISE, CD-ROMS
The price of a sponsorship includes a "Goodies & Games" section on Purple Moon where the sponsor can post a page with product information.
Purple Moon's other revenue is based on selling branded merchandise and CD-ROMs. It has an online store where it will introduce online transactions in '98, and is considering selling advertisers' products.
Purple Moon prides itself as providing a safe, entertaining place for girls where they can create Web pages, make friends and interact with the characters from the CD-ROMs, such as an eighth grader named Rockett from the company's first CD-ROM "Rockett's New School." Purple Moon calls its content "friendship adventures," interactive stories that appeal to girls.
SITE MONITORED CONSTANTLY
The site is monitored at all times and requires parents to give e-mail or verbal consent for girls to register.
Industry studies have found that girls have been slow to get involved in interactive media. Which is why Purple Moon garnered attention when it was spun off by Paul Allen's Interval Research Corp. in 1996 with the goal of developing entertainment just for girls. "Everyone's been waiting to see if it's truly a successful model," said Susan Scott, executive director of Web privacy organization TRUSTe. By advising girls not to use their full name on home pages and requiring parents' permission, she added, "It sounds like Purple Moon is doing all the right things and taking it one step further."
`DANGEROUS GAME TO PLAY'
"It's a very good way to toe the line between advertising to kids and not advertising to kids," said Seema Williams, an analyst with Forrester Research. Marketing to kids is "a very dangerous game to play," she said. "Purple Moon is trying to find a way to generate ad revenue" without running banners or "being so explicit and potentially drawing fire."
Kate Delhagen , a senior analyst at Forrester, said it wouldn't surprise her if advertisers were lined up ready to take advantage of this marketing opportunity to girls.
"It becomes an issue of execution -- do the products work?"