Swap.com's Tough Marketing Task: Reaching Kids and Their Parents

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Swap.com will roll out a major marketing campaign Feb. 15 to catch kids' attention and gain the trust of parents.

Straight out of the schoolyard, Swap.com will enable kids to trade their old PlayStation games, unwanted Beanie Babies and other items with peers on the Net. To use the service, minors must register using their parents' credit cards.

To reach its core market, children ages 8 to 18, the site will advertise online and offline. The tagline "the ultimate trading place for today's generation" will be broadcast on popular radio stations across 60 percent to 70 percent of the country. Television spots will run on Nickelodeon, reruns of the "Simpsons" and other programming aimed at children, although the details of the site's television advertising were not available at press time.

Online, Swap.com is purchasing keyword searches from a number of major portals and is looking into deals with regulated kid-specific sites such as Pokémon collector pages. It already has banners on popular teen sites such as IGN.com, Alloy.com and Bolt.com. Swap.com's owner, idealab, Pasadena, CA, also made buys on Yahoo and AOL.

To keep kids coming back for more, a loyalty currency is in development. Kids can earn online points for making swaps. They can trade the currency and spend it at advertisers' sites.

To get the message out that the site is compliant with the U.S. Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, Swap.com took out ads with the Los Angeles Times shortly after its Dec. 26 launch. To drum up press, the site has hired Stratecom Inc., Boulder, CO, to run a press tour.

"We're looking to market to kids and PR to parents," said Bill Keenan, CEO at Swap.com. "We hope by the time kids bring it up to their parents, ideally the parents would already have heard of it."

However, the site has no plans to make a major push to reach parents. "We're not going to buy prime time or the Super Bowl to tell parents," said Keenan. "If our message is coming from the parents, it's not a good thing."

The biggest marketing coup for the company was securing the name, said Keenan. To secure Swap.com, the site presented the previous address owner with a large equity offer and cash.

"With the name, it's obvious what we do. There are so many sites out there that sound good, but you can't remember the name. We're going to save a bundle on marketing," said Keenan.

The site generates revenue from sponsorships and banner advertisements run on its pages.Trades are free, but Swap.com will begin charging each swapper a 77-cent flat fee in April. Additionally, it offers a "Secret Shipping Service" that prevents a child's address from being revealed for a fee of $5.77 per product shipped.

To protect its users, the site offers a number of other features. Through a protected password, parents have the ability to monitor, alter and halt their children's trades. Additionally, age, gender, name and other personal information is protected from other members.

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