Network: A fish called global marketing wheeze

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Children have their Tamagotchis to feed and care for. Now adults can own a virtual pet in the office. But, says

Glenda Cooper, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, the MOPy fish is far from child's play. It is

a carefully crafted marketing tool.

Virtual pets - previously confined to Tamagotchi-crazed children - have now entered the workplace for adults. But while the latest addition to the fold of virtual creatures - a parrot fish for your desktop - may swim, eat, and need cleaning and exercise, it will also hook you into a sophisticated marketing agenda.

The consultancy Global Beach has created the "MOPy fish", to live on a PC desktop. It took six months to create the fish, taking millions of pictures and studying the habits of real parrot fish - as well as constructing a technical brain to allow the fish to react in different ways.

The owner must feed and play with his or her fish or, after 14 days, it will die. People who feed and play with their fish erratically will find that it turns neurotic, not always responding to the PC owner at once, and hiding behind rocks and plants a lot; those who treat it well will find a happy and placid fish. The MOPy fish lives in a virtual fish tank where you can earn points to add rocks, divers, thermometers and, eventually, Japanese water gardens and pagodas.

This is where the marketing comes in. Global Beach has created the MOPy fish for Hewlett Packard, which wanted to raise awareness of its office printers. ("MOPy" stands for "Multiple Original Printers", capable of printing out the same document lots of times). Hewlett Packard was worried that people were still printing out once on the printer, and then photocopying it dozens of times.

Global Beach's wheeze was simple, but, says Clive Jackson, creative director and chief executive, it is one that he predicts will be re-created many times in the future. The fish can be downloaded from the Internet and installed on an office PC. Every time a multiple printer is used, the fish is given more points, so the jollier your virtual fish tank is.

At the same time, Hewlett Packard can also tell who is using its printers more often, and to whom the message has not yet got through. "The more you print, the more rewards you get," says Mr Jackson. "The idea is that they will continue to MOPy once they've found the short cut, and they will tend not to go back."

So far, 300,000 people have downloaded the fish from the Internet, and HP's aim is to get on to 10 million PCs worldwide.

The cost of setting up the MOPy fish was roughly equivalent to that of a "small TV commercial", but, says Mr Jackson, it has been used in 55 countries and there have been no technical costs since it was set up. Such a device is also likely to stay with the consumer far longer than the average commercial, he believes.

Global Beach plans to launch more virtual creatures in the new year. "Lots of companies are using the opportunity to make themselves known to us," says Mr Jackson. "PCs are now not just being seen as terminals but as ways of communication, to look at media intervention in relation to the consumer."

HP MOPy fish site

http://www.interactive.hp.com/ fish

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