Toyota Advertises On Tweeny Site Whyville

 I hate to point to the New York Times two posts in a row, but today the Old Grey Lady talks about why Toyota is paying for product placement in the 8- to 15-year-old online community

Whyville has more than one million residents, 60 percent of which are girls, and draws about 40 million page views per month. Each resident is displayed within the community as a floating torso with an unnaturally large head. Users can purchase in-game facial features and clothing, as well as special items (like cars) for their avatars.

Now, for all you number lovers out there, this paragraph’s for you. Within the first ten days of the campaign:

    • The word Scion was mentioned 78,000 times within Whyville.
    • Hundreds of virtual Scions (fully configurable with the same options available on real ones) were purchased by Whyville residents.
    • Club Scion, a hotspot where users can configure their cars, was visited 33,741 times.

Think it’s bizarre that Toyota would do this? No so much, according to, which says that 39 percent of parents of 10- and 11-year-olds say their children have a significant impact on brand purchases.

Other interesting trivia about Whyville:

It sports a virtual Gerry Museum that includes virtual reproductions of real work from the Getty’s collection and art-themed games.

In 2002, Whyville residents began to appear with bizarre spots on their faces. It turned out that the spots were actually symptoms of “Whypox,” a virtual disease created to “trigger an interest in learning about epidemiology”.

The Los Angeles Times covered the virtual epidemic, writing:

Just after Valentine’s Day, the Site’s designers at Numedeon Inc., a privately held company, infected the online identities of a handful of the most frequent users with the pox. They also posted a memo on the site’s bulletin board suggesting that users check out “’what’s new’ at the Whyville version of the national Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention].”

From there, the pox spread through contact. And as it did, so did rumors and panic. “I became sad and horrified,” wrote one user, screen name Girlyleo, in an article posted on the site’s online newspaper.

Soon pox-free Whyvillians were shunning the infected. Deviously enterprising users began offering fake cures. A lively trade in skin-colored digital cover-ups and paper bags with eyeholes emerged.

"I hated Whypox," said Jessica Ruane, 12, of Westwood, who averages about two hours a day on the Whyville site. "It stayed, like, five days, and you get, like, pox all over your face."

But, whether or not she liked it, Jessica wanted to figure out what was going on. So she visited the site's faux CDC Web page to investigate.

There she encountered a simulation of how disease spreads, a real-time graph of how many Whyvillians had been infected and links to an actual newspaper article about a wave of real unexplained rashes affecting East Coast schools.

"I read everything about it and I was like, 'Oh!' " Jessica said.

Several hundred Whyville users then entered a contest to guess when the epidemic would come to an end, using the knowledge they'd gained.