Getting 21st century marketing: How Sweden’s stardoll.com taps the virtual world

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Step one: Set up a free, easily accessible virtual world (VW) where girls can play with virtual dolls.

Step two: Purchase a truck-full of rakes and a heavy duty forklift for the cash that’s going to pile up, sit back in your late 18th century Gustavian sofa and sip a sockerdricka.

Done kludgy, VWs can give users a headache. Who wants to spend a half-hour or more slogging through a mandatory tutorial on how to fly your avatar before you get to explore around? Done right, like Stockholm-based stardoll.com, VWs are a prime opportunity for building virtual and material relationships with potential and existing customers.

Here’s how it works.

Registration is free, simple, stressless as a Swedish massage, and instantly gratifying. Everything Millennial kids and their GenX parents want. It takes only seconds. Talk about a lead generation machine. The final click says “Let’s play!” You just can’t get more inviting than that.

Once in the door, girls can “manufacture” a doll from scratch, picking eye-color and shape, hair-style, skin-tone, etc. from various lists and dress her (or him) in some generic outfits. You can name your doll and enter it in fashion shows, create and join clubs, IM other members (this is where stardoll.com must stay extremely vigilant) or take your doll window shopping in a virtual mall. If you’re 5 or 6, that might hold you for awhile.

Here’s where mommy’s credit card comes out.

If you want a doll from an extensive list of pop stars and celebrities, you’ll need some virtual money. That is, unless the doll you want to play with represents someone a little longer in the popularity tooth, like Cher (no offense meant, Cher). Virtual money is purchased with real money at an attractive exchange rate.

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Even if a girl prefers her custom creation, with virtual money she can shop in the virtual stores just like big girls for the latest, virtual branded products for her doll. Think about how much a virtual superstar doll absolutely needs the latest fashion bag and matching designer shoes for a virtual celebrity outing in front of the virtual paparazzi, and you get the idea. So do shops like DKNY and Sephora.

Here’s the next stroke of brilliance.

If mommy’s credit card is not forthcoming, you can still visit sponsored play areas with your doll or gain access to some celebrity dolls (I picked 50 Cent), but outfits, accessories, even furniture comes from the sponsor’s virtual catalog.

Talk about a premium opportunity to build brand recognition: Here’s where you imprint your logo on the brains of millions of girls who eventually get their own credit cards, their own homes to furnish, their own vehicles. Oh, and influence the purchasing decision of millions of boyfriends and husbands. That opportunity should have just about every retailer zooming to get their virtual product into the virtual hands of virtual Amanda Bynes and Brad Pitt.

Stardoll.com was ranked by comScore as the top Internet destination in June for girls aged 9-17. The company, launched just over a year ago, has hit the 10 million registered users’ mark.

Teen and “tween” girls in the U.S. and Europe are projected to have $21 billion in disposable income by 2008.

eMarketer said this week that by 2011, 53% of U.S. kids will have visited a virtual world. Is your business there yet?

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