|Virtual make-overs, real money|
Thursday, 14 January 2010 13:04
It's 7am and I'm the only one in the office. I'm checking my mail when I see a flashing advertisement on the side of my screen, offering me the chance to give myself a virtual make-over. Since I've been considering changing my hair-style, I decide to do something I've never done before: I click on a banner add.
My pop-up blocker didn't go crazy, my anti-virus didn't freak out. I was taken to a site called Hollywood Make-over, where I could upload a picture of myself, define where my features were, and give myself a Jennifer Aniston hairstyle:
Hmm perhaps red's not my colour.
I was surprised to find the site did not ask for money – after all, when last did you see something that could give you hours of amusement for free? Facebook. That's right. Facebook applications that are now being sued for scamming you. I take those apps as a lesson: just because a site doesn't make money off you in the first five minutes, doesn't mean that it won't.
After coming to this conclusion, I looked a little closer. And I wanted to kick myself for not coming up with the idea of virtual make-overs first.
I am a weapon of massive consumption
The person who did think of it first was BeautyRiot.com's general manager, Kirsten Lambertsen, who obtained a patent in 2002. It was not the first kind of online dress-up tool, but it was the first kind to let users adjust the system to their own personal features.
BeautyRiot is now one of the top ten beauty sites according to Alexa.com, and no wonder, everyone wants to be pretty. They may want to be smart, but they want to be pretty too. That's why fashion magazines make so much money. And that's why fashion websites stand to gain so much from having virtual make-overs on their sites. It's a game, it's fun, it's also an awesome way of advertising.
Hollywood Make-over is tied to In Style magazine. A similar application which runs on the same engine, developed by Photometria Inc, is called Taaz and is tied to GlamMedia, the power behind online publication Glam.com.The digital make-overs bring people to these sites, people who would have never known that the publications existed. The people are exposed to the site's advertising and, more importantly, once they see these publications, they're one step closer to subscribing. After all, isn't the person interested in changing their hair and buying new make-up the exact target market for a fashion magazine?
Of course, someone who wants to play dress-up online isn't necessarily wanting to buy magazines, so the make-over applicaions have to have other ways of bringing in the dough: what about selling the products you try on? Once you have selected your look, you can click to see “what I'm wearing” and if you like, you can order it online. Nothing like giving people the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.
And then finally, for those serious make-over-ists who want to keep an album of their make-overs, interact with a make-over community and try on certain exclusive items, you have to sign-up. And this involves handing over an email address.
Email addresses are big money online. As Dennis Yu, CEO of advertising/marketing firm BlitzLocal, explained in an interview with TechCrunch, programs and games that collect email addresses and sell them to advertisers are known as lead-gen schemes because they save information about you and pass them on to those who can best use that information.
While the other money-generating aspects of these make-over sites can do you no harm, if your personal details are sold you will find yourself knee-deep in spam before long. It is important, in order to avoid this happening, that you review the privacy document of such sites. It should say something along the lines of:
“We will not share the personally identifiable information you provide through a contest with other third parties unless we give you prior notice and choice. We neither rent nor sell your Personal Information to anyone.”
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