Speak ‘Habbo’?

With all the buzz about boutique hotels these days, it was perhaps just a matter of time before someone got virtual about it.

With all the buzz about boutique hotels these days, it was perhaps just a matter of time before someone got virtual about it.

Billed as the ‘first graphical multiplayer online community for Canadian teens,’ Habbo Hotel (www.habbohotel.ca) comes to Canada by way of Toronto-based CHUM Television and Sulake Canada, the local arm of Helsinki, Finland’s Sulake Labs, creator of the Habbo Hotel. Sulake Labs has opened nine hotels in other countries, including the U.K., Spain, Japan and Germany since launching in 2000.

Similar to other online communities like worlds.com and Coke Music (also developed by Sulake Labs), Habbo Hotel is a moderated space where youth aged 13 to 20 can interact with one another in a virtual world using avatars of themselves called ‘habbos.’ Visitors use the characters to do things such as chat, dance and eat with each other for free. Players can also customize the look of their habbos and create their own rooms.

Roma Khanna, VP, CHUM Television Interactive, says the broadcaster got involved on behalf of its MuchMusic property because the hotel represents a new, safe and cool way to

connect with its audience. She also says the hotel is an opportunity for marketers to reach youth in an effective way because of the

seamlessness with which brands can be integrated into the space. For example, a marketer could sponsor or brand a room and have consumers come in to buy their virtual product as part of their day-to-day interaction with other habbos.

‘It’s not about beating them over the head with a brand,’ she says. ‘It’s about the fact that they’re in the Pizza Palace eating their

virtual pizza because that’s fun for them. And if you can associate your brand with that

experience then you’re getting them in a

completely different way and level than just straight advertising and marketing.’

Anne Sutton, VP, director, e-marketing

at Toronto-based agency Wunderman, says

the best way for marketers to approach

opportunities with the hotel ‘would be to look for ideas and products that are consistent with the hotel environment, that somehow add value to the experience as opposed to pop-ups and things kids will see through.’

Currently, brands on the site, which

launched June 23, include Nike and Unilever for its Axe brand of body spray, as well as MuchMusic. Khanna says CHUM is pitching other advertisers as well. ‘It was important

to us that we build the community first before we bring branding in because these kids

are very savvy and they’re very protective of their space.’

Traffic has been brisk so far with 100,000 registered habbos and 87,000 unique visitors in the eight days the site was open in June. About 55,000 unique rooms were set up, approximately 54,000 of those by kids. The highest number of simultaneous users recorded so far has been 1,240 in July, and Khanna says 5,000 would be ideal.