Essentially, the deal shakes out in a Second Life kind of way. Heidi gets her own store, located in Stardoll's "Star Plaza" shopping center, where the girls can look through her collection, buy "virtual versions" of the product that they can use to bedeck their avatars, and talk shop about fashion. They can even look through Heidi's "closet" of favorite handbags, shoes, clothes and awards show outfits. Oh and she gets this avatar (see right) that doesn't really do graphic justice to Klum's on-screen beauty.
“I don’t just think about it as selling jewelry, [but] I try to make it about who I am,” Klum told me over the phone. “I think it’s great to be in connection with young girls who are interested in fashion . . . It allows [the girls] to interact with those celebrities they are fans of and get an insight into what that person’s favorite clothes are.”
Klum isn't the first to go this way with Stardoll. A partnership with LVMH in December landed DKNY (see store format below) and Sephora in the space, and before that young starlets like Hillary Duff, the Olsens, and Avril Lavigne had also set up shop on the site. And there are more to come! The site, which claims to have 12 million visitors, is seeking other high-end partnerships with brands including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Tam, Liz Claiborne and Henri Bendel.
No doubt, digi-deals like these are already popping up everywhere, but the fact that they're luxury players that are effectively marketing to kids—essentially recruiting future shoppers while their brand loyalties aren't yet set in stone, not to mention further glamorizing a materialist marketplace—seemed just a little bizarre to me.
So I rang up Susan Linn over at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to get her thoughts. Picking a fight, I know, but I thought she might be able to shed some light on this trend.
“The real purpose of social networking sites for young kids like Stardoll, BarbieGirl and even Webkinz and Club Penguin, is to train kids to shop,” she told me. “It’s a good thing for the corporations to make a lot of bucks, but it’s not a good thing for kids. What these companies want to do it get children in the habit of consumption . . . and instill the idea that they deserve luxury products."
But is that Stardoll's fault, really? If we're supposed to stop instilling kids with the idea that they deserve expensive things, why don't we just cancel any number of reality and "scripted reality" shows, not to mention MTV shows like "Cribs" or VH1's "The Fabulous Life Of" series? Certainly those shows glamorize opulent wealth and rampant consumerism.
To whit, Paul Kurnit, president of Kid Shop and a marketing professor at Pace University, told me that the children using sites like Stardoll are already exposed to hyper-consumer culture via television shows like those mentioned above.
“Luxury is aspiration and a lot of those brands and those celebrities are fashion and lifestyle brand badges that today's teen and tween girls want a piece of,” he said, adding that he feels Stardoll does a good job of delivering for both its users and brands.
So, dear reader, what's the verdict? Is Stardoll out of line, or is it merely keeping with the times?