CaseStudy Bonus Traffic For a Site Challenging the Big Guys
It may be a small world after all, but there’s plenty of room online for Web sites devoted to entertaining and educating kids.
That’s the lesson learned by Bonus.com, which bills itself as the SuperSite for Kids, after its traffic tripled in the last year. The site has pulled more than 300,000 members in the face of heavy and established competition from Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner and other kid-oriented outlets.
And they’ve done it with a staff of about 25 and a launch-to-present total operating budget the staff says is smaller than the marketing expenditures for the launch of Disney’s Club Blast – somewhere in the $5 million-to-$10 million ballpark.
What they want
The key is to understand what kids are looking for – although providing lots of cool, free games in a safe environment helps.
“Every 10-and-a-half-year-old thinks he’s 14 or even 18,” says Lucy Rector, the site’s managing editor. “We can’t talk down to them and we have to make them feel important.”
The staff, for example, replies to every e-mail and the site offers a voting booth for visitors to gauge general attitudes about life, fashion and other teen concerns. Bonus.com also has a kids’ advisory board to monitor the latest trends and to give advice to the 30-something developers on how to stay in touch with the target audience.
“They’re not shy in telling us what they do and don’t like. They give us some terrific feedback,” says Li Kramer Halpern, Bonus.com’s VP of marketing and sales. “But it would be worthless for us and frustrating for them if we didn’t do anything with that information. They really help us shape the site.”
That kind of empowerment for the kids – the average user is 10.7 years old – has helped Bonus.com elbow out a niche in a crowded marketplace.
Reaching out to both parents and teachers also has helped attract attention and members. The home page launches Net Scooter, software which cofines visitors within a page rather than allowing them to surf the Web and – as kids have a tendency to do – find trouble. Bonus.com also has a healthy blend of education and entertainment opportunities, now totaling more than 2,000 activities, including 900 Java games and other activities that span from fashion to dinosaurs. Especially popular are the multi-player games that help build a sense of community and games that offer high-score boards.
The celebrity showcase is also a hit with the kids, with stars such as NFL quarterback Steve Young, the NBA’s Scottie Pippen and the hot new band NSYNC stopping by.
“We have a broccoli and ice cream approach,” Rector says. “The secret is to make them live together in a balanced meal. They are there to have fun, but it doesn’t hurt if they learn something.”
The approach seems to be working.
Bonus.com’s monthly page views currently exceed 19.7 million, far exceeding an average of 6.9 million page views a month for the same time last year, according to a recent audit by ABC Interactive. And as go the numbers, so go the advertisers.
“The tremendous growth rate of kids going online and into sites like Bonus.com underscores the importance of creating and promoting consumer brands on the Web,” says Gene Slyman, director of online media at Magnet Interactive, an interactive solutions provider for industry players including Kellogg’s and Mattel. “Many of our clients are already poised to capture the attention of the Web generation.”
That means understanding them. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Bonus.com is a wholly owned subsidiary of Appaloosa, a 15-year veteran of the kid interactive market, giving the site developers a long background and plenty of support in speaking the kids’ language.
“Offer them game play with scoring – they’re very competitive,” says Kramer Halpern. “Give them rewards. You’ll also get some interest if you key to a popular celebrity. Whatever you do, make sure you get the kids involved, not just watching something.”
Four additional quick tips on appealing to kids from a recent report (from S2K sister publication iprmn, 2/99) from Saatchi & Saatchi:
* Make it fun, but cool.
* Challenge their smarts.
* Give them buy-in.
* Build brands that hike connections.
It’s a mouse-eat-mouse world to capture and hold kids’ attention. But if you can talk to them in a language they understand, you can find a way to reach the next generation.
(Li Kramer Halpern and Lucy Rector, Bonus.com, 650/813-0100, www.bonus. com; Gene Slyman, Magnet Interactive, 202/625-1111, www.magnet. com; Myra Stark, Saatchi & Saatchi, 212/463-2000, www.saatchi-saatchi.com.)
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