My trip to Boston to speak at the Sandbox Summit event took a sad turn when I heard about the tragic bombing as my train pulled into Back Bay Station. While everyone was a bit freaked out, the Summit continued, and I joined a panel discussion about the tensions between COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and creativity when it comes to tweens online. We discussed the changes to COPPA, how difficult it is for mobile sites and apps to comply with these new rules (the industry has asked for “more time”) and how non-profits, while not legally required to comply, are encouraged to do so and end up making sites 13 and up even when kids under 13 may benefit from engaging in that issue.
I also attended a session led by the JibJab brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis. They shared their journey from online video company on the brink of failure to “overnight” viral success to successful business. They were not really at the Sandbox Summit to talk about JibJab, but to share their vision and plans for Storybot, their new franchise for kids and parents. Basically, the brothers both had kids and were inspired to create products that would entertain and educate kids while helping to keep parenting fun.
Here’s what I took away:
Having a viral hit is not a business model
Follow the long tail, and make people pay. While JibJab’s Bush/Kerry “This Land” video achieved mass awareness (80 million views and tons of news coverage), it was not a sustainable business model. The brothers decided to instead go after the long tail by telling lots of smaller stories with templates users could personalize, i.e. your face on Gangnam Style guy dancing with changing backgrounds. Instead of one video with 80 million views, they created 892 templates that have collectively garnered 1.3 billion views. They also went into the eCard business, offering $12 annual subscriptions and are now a profitable 50 person company in Venice, CA. Their new Storybots franchise for kids and parents charges $4.99 a month for unlimited app downloads.
Simple design, smart content
Storybots are animated characters based on variations of a circle and square. Simple, colorful and musical (there is a song for each letter of the alphabet). That said, the brothers have been smart about working with subject matter and child development experts to ensure that everything about the kids’ experience is educational down to the words they use. And they still have that JibJab fun factor – stick your kid’s face on a singing bear (substituted for Gangnam Style dude).
Apps can help parents incentivize kids to be good
In addition to the fun kids’ stuff, JibJab has also launched a few fun apps for parents such as their version of the “star chart”—it goes “beep” if they do something good (i.e. be nice to your sister) and “boop” if they do something not so good (throw a tantrum over not getting a toy). The “beeps” add up and parents can award prizes or incentives for good behavior. Allegedly, parents using the app report 3.1 more beeps than boops. They also have a coin flip app, which features kids’ faces on the coins, naturally, that can help parents decide which kid goes first.
Read more about Storybots in an interview with the brothers here. Now how to get them to create something for an Ad Council campaign…
To be continued.