Cross a Beanie Baby with a Neopet and what do you get?  The answer is Webkinz, an extensive line of plush pets with lives in an online world. 

Each Webkinz sold comes with a unique ID that gives its owner access to the Webkinz online community.  There owners and their pets can play games, earn Webkinz cash and IM others "safely" using pre-scripted messages, among other options.  Owners are responsible for their pet's happiness, health and hunger, which respond to various types of interaction.  One feature is sure to be loved by marketers alone:  a Webkinz account lasts only a year; to renew, owners must buy a whole new pet.

Parents with children or tweens are probably already aware of Webkinz, because more than a million were sold within a year of launch, reportedly without advertising.  (Appearances on several of daytime TV's biggest shows probably didn't hurt.)  And, in the ultimate measure of popularity in our time, Webkinz already turn up in a few hundred YouTube postings.

by Jonathan Gottlieb