financial services

ING Direct Redesigns Planet Orange

Planet Orange/ING Direct Online banker ING Direct has redesigned and is relaunching its Planet Orange site with all the bells and whistles that online kids expect.

The virtual Web experience now includes more flash and more games, says an ING Direct spokesperson. There's also a mechanism for buying decorations, which focus groups have shown that girls are attracted to in online experiences.

"In 2002, when the site first launched, it was totally state of the art," says ING Direct spokesperson Cathy MacFarlane. "The new site is way more fun. We looked at other sites that held children's attention and tried to develop the new site with that in mind."

To promote it, the nation's largest direct bank is planning to run search and banner display ads in select locations, such as National Geographic's kids Web site.



The bank also is speaking to associations of teachers and principals. The site includes a Teacher's Resource Center with teacher tutorials, free lesson plans that comply with most state standards, and supplemental information and tools to enhance the learning experience. The bank is designing a teacher's workshop to use the site, including an offline workbook, to help teachers use the site in situations where every child does not have their own computer in the classroom, MacFarlane says.

The site's core mission, to teach children financial responsibility and the difference between "want" and "need," remains the same, MacFarlane tells Marketing Daily.

Planet Orange, found at, gives children a chance to embark on a variety of targeted space missions. On the site, kids can experience work, earning and responsible spending. They are taught to buy things they need -- such as fuel to get around the "planet" -- before things they want.

While on Planet Orange, children in grades one through six can rocket through space to four different continents that teach the fundamentals of earning, saving, spending and investing. The Planet Orange space missions allow children to select and steer their astronaut through four quirky cities on Planet Orange.

After the tasks are completed on each continent, the children are given a brief quiz of lessons learned and earn a certificate for answering all the questions correctly. On breaks between missions, Planet Orange travelers can hang out at their space station and spend Obux -- Planet Orange outer space money -- on games, decorations and costumes for their avatar astronaut. When Obux run low, there are always plenty of ways to earn more.

"As a bank, we're very committed to teaching financially responsible behavior," MacFarlane says. "But every so often we find that children don't have any examples of saving money at home and are not getting any financial education in school. Only 17 states currently have financial education standards."

Parents are saying they don't feel qualified to teach kids financial lessons, she added. A recent Harris Interactive poll indicates that parents feel they're more prepared to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol or sex and dating than money and finances.

A recent survey conducted by ING Direct found that 94% of parents believe that they are responsible for educating their children about the importance of money. The survey also showed that 96% of parents feel that financial education should be taught in school, causing a need for teachers to develop age-appropriate -- and engaging -- "money" activities.

With the new site, parents may end up learning some financial lessons as well. A child can't register to participate without a parent signing off on it. Parents get notification emails letting them know their child has been on the site.

While the original Planet Orange site was static, the new site is similar to MinyanLand, which was launched in February 2008 by Minyanville Media, Inc. in partnership with Kaboose. MinyanLand is a virtual community designed to engage kids and families in games and interaction that are entertaining and educational.

Its economic system mimics the real-life pricing of general goods and services. As players participate, their actions will affect the overall MinyanLand economy. To keep the economy stabilized, for instance, players must stay healthy by eating on a regular basis. MinyanLand will also offer incentives to encourage such behavior as charitable giving.

That site is now up to 450,000 registered participants with 400 to 1,000 new users joining daily, according to Kevin Wassong, president of Minyanville Media, Inc.

The goal of the two sites is similar, Wassong said. Minyanville had discussions with ING Direct prior to the relaunch about partnering, but ING Direct opted to continue with Planet Orange, he said.

In other news, ING Direct is debuting Easy Orange, a mortgage designed to reward customers who want to own their homes years sooner than a traditional mortgage. This new mortgage product is designed for Americans who have built up a healthy down payment, are serious about paying off their mortgage quickly, and want to save thousands of dollars with a low interest rate and low closing costs.

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