BabyPhat 'Sells' Clothes for Avatars via imstar

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Retailer BabyPhat is working with instant messaging service imstar on a branded storefront online featuring virtual versions of the company's apparel lines.


Through this arrangement, imstar users can try to "buy" BabyPhat clothing for their avatar -- an online persona created by the user. Once the item is bought with a special imBux currency, it lives online within the imstar user's virtual closet.


Other elements are involved in this program. For example, imstar developers ensure that the apparel changes along with the avatar. If an imstar user decides to increase the bust size of her avatar, the shirt will fit differently.


Also, imstar has branded skins as part of one package it offers to sponsors. In this version, a unique default avatar is surrounded by an interface with the logo, colors and look-and-feel of the sponsor brand.


A property of Bandalong Entertainment,New York, imstar aims to change the face of instant messaging for teenagers and young adults. The formula is to combine teen passions for Web chat, self-expression, gaming, fashion and community with a customizable 3D avatar.


"The program offers a more engaging and entertaining instant messaging experience while allowing brands to interact with this ever-elusive marketplace where they hang out -- online," said Pam Quandt, VP of Marketing for Bandalong. "With imstar, teens essentially pull brand interaction rather than having advertising pushed to them."


Users visit the site at www.imstar.com to download the free program and get a 3D avatar with morph controls. They can earn imBux through challenges and games. They can shop for their avatar in a virtual mall with branded clothing, shoes and hairstyles. Also, users can instant message, shop and trade for more apparel as well as run through a list of full-body animations, facial expressions and sounds.


Of course, imstar faces competition from IM leaders like AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Google. The challenge is getting the attention of consumers without a marketing budget that matches the entrenched IM players. But deals like BabyPhat and one with Aeropostale will help get the word out in the youth market. At least that's the hope.


Quandt said the imstar concept helps teens select how and why they interact with advertisers. It also serves as a research tool for product development with imstar reporting behavior of users who use imBux points to buy, say, one apparel style over the other. Finally, imstar lets Web links be embedded within the storefronts to take users directly to the marketer's site.


"Imstar helps brands put themselves in the right place at the right time so that messages are not forced, but the interaction with the brand is natural," Quandt said.


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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