One of the biggest pop culture stories of the pandemic has been the new Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The game was released on March 20 and has set records for sales, an achievement generally attributed to the relatively soothing nature of its gameplay at a time when so many people are stuck inside and seeking a respite from the daily barrage of bad news.
New Horizons enables players to customize their avatars and homes, and with so many people playing the game, brands quickly attempted to grab some of that consumer attention. Players were able to download any item from the entire collection of clothing brand 100 Thieves within a few weeks.
Hudson’s Bay joined the game last week, announcing that players could dress their avatars in sweaters featuring its iconic yellow, green, red and blue stripes, or use the pattern for items in their virtual homes, such as bedspreads and pillows.
“What we want is to be very integrated into Canadian consumers’ lives,” said Meghan Nameth, Hudson’s Bay’s senior vice-president of marketing.
Right now, she said, Animal Crossing has become a part of the lives of many Canadians, particularly younger consumers.
“We really wanted to reach this younger demographic, and we felt like this was a really innovative way to connect with millennials and Gen Z through a platform that they are finding quite relevant and that they are enjoying.”
Inserting the brand into Animal Crossing was a way to try and take advantage of a pop culture phenomenon in unexpected circumstance, but it aligns with a larger marketing strategy that had already been established coming into 2020, said Nameth.
“We did do a landscape assessment of where our consumers are now, where are they shopping, where are they consuming content, what are they doing,” she said. “This was a bit of a quirky idea that came up along the way, but it was part of a larger strategy to reach and be relevant to all demographics of consumers, and in particular this kind of new Gen Z, digital native community.”
— Hudson's Bay (@hudsonsbay) May 21, 2020
That strategy to reach younger consumers had included some gaming options, but not the totally unforeseeable phenomenon of Animal Crossing‘s immense popularity during a pandemic. “Animal Crossing has been really unbelievable in terms of its reach so that’s been sort of the nice and surprising part of this,” said Nameth.
For now, Hudson’s Bay can only gauge interest in the brand’s presence in the game by responses to social posts on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, since Nintendo doesn’t release data about how often the retailer’s customization code was used.
But it was a relatively easy way for the brand to play along with young consumers at a unique moment in history.
Adding branded items to the game is free, doesn’t need approval from Nintendo, and is pretty straightforward—handled in this case by the retailer’s internal creative team. “It was very quick—from idea to execution was under a week,” said Nameth. “I wish we’d had the idea sooner, but we executed it really well.”