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Brands are hiring Animal Crossing players to help them sneak into the digital world, launch products, and create custom in-game experiences

4 Mins read
  • Retail companies like beauty brand Tatcha are making their way into Nintendo’s popular open-world video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, without official partnerships with Nintendo.
  • Instead, Tatcha worked with a beauty influencer and Animal Crossing player, Claire Marshall, who used her knowledge of the game to bring their vision to life.
  • Marshall had to follow the typical rules and processes of the game to build out Tatchaland for the brand, in a process that took two months.
  • Other brands like makeup and skincare company Glossier have similarly partnered with Animal Crossing experts to create branded activations or clothing items in the game without a Nintendo partnership.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Like many millennial remote workers during quarantine, YouTube vlogger and influencer Claire Marshall spent a lot of time playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But unlike most players of the delightful PG life simulation game, she was working on a special mission: building Tatchaland.

Tatchaland is a branded island that was created by Marshall and beauty brand Tatcha, which players in Animal Crossing can visit and explore within the game. Marshall, who is a beauty and fashion vlogger, has partnered with the brand in the past, but her previous influencer work hadn’t required gaming skills.

“When they reached out about this opportunity I was ecstatic because it was so different than the traditional influencer partnerships you see today,” Marshall told Business Insider. “I got to be at the forefront and had the chance to implement my creativity in ways I haven’t been able to do before.”

Tatchaland was also different than most traditional branded content deals: Tatcha did not work with or pay Nintendo, the maker of Animal Crossing, to create the branded activation within the game, and did not receive special permission or capabilities to build out its brand activation. (Nintendo declined to comment for this story, but Tatcha said they did not partner with Nintendo.)

Advertising within open-world video games isn’t a new concept — Fortnite has done promotions with the likes of Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, Avengers, FIFA’s World Cup, and more. In those instances, the advertisers paid to work with Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, to execute the branded in-game experiences. But unofficial in-game advertisements, like when Wendy’s created a Fortnite avatar, went into fast food establishments in the game and destroyed their freezers, are gaining popularity.

Tatcha also took a more bootleg approach, partnering with experts of the game to build out their branded visions.

“We spent two months in partnership with Claire building all of the details of the island to create this branded experience,” Sarah Curtis Henry, the chief marketing officer for Tatcha told Business Insider in an interview.

Tatcha’s own team had enjoyed the game during quarantine and realized there was a strong match between Tatcha’s audience and Animal Crossing’s dedicated audience of women game players. While stores were closed because of the pandemic, Tatcha could still interact with its fans and release products in the game. They reached out to Marshall to help make it happen.

Marshall began playing Animal Crossing at the beginning of this year, so she was familiar with the rules of the game and steps she’d have to take to bring Tatcha’s elaborate Tatchaland vision to life: an island reminiscent of Kyoto that celebrated the Japanese heritage of the beauty brand’s products, complete with a Japanese tea house, a fountain, a product test lab, a hoodie made in collaboration with Alo yoga, and a robe branded with Tatcha’s motto “every moment beauty.”

“Part of our goal was to create a fun and engaging experience for our community during a really difficult time where we all felt out of our depth and constrained in many different ways,” Henry said. Tatcha wanted its island to offer “a sense of sanctuary and escape.”

Tatcha Tatchaland Animal Crossing Interior
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Tatcha

The island also serves as a launch space for Tatcha’s new Rice Wash product. The island features rice fields as a nod to the product’s key ingredient, and players could learn about the product in the test lab, as well as earn a chance to win a sample of the product.

To build out such an elaborate concept, Marshall said she went through the journey that any player has to go through on Animal Crossing to do what is called “terraforming” – the term for building an island in the game. She worked to collect bells, which are the currency in Animal Crossing and sourced almost all of the items on the island during her own play. Marshall worked closely with Tatcha’s brand influencer marketing team to plan and design the island, with Henry reviewing the project at various stages along the way.

“It took a lot of time and it was a super detailed process,” Henry said.

At first, Tatchaland was just open to its community of influencers, who created content about the game that helped generate interest from general consumers. Then, the island opened up to any game player who wanted to visit. Today, the island is still open to visitors, players just need to use Tatcha’s Dream Code address, a game feature that allows players to easily visit other islands.

Like Tatcha’s partnership with Marshall, other veteran Animal Crossing players have made a business out of working with brands to build their in-game brand concepts. Nook Street Market is a team of three Animal Crossing gurus who have made a business of creating in-game outfit recreations of IRL fashion items, partnering with Glossier to make a hoodie that’s available in-game, as well as with Betsey Johnson.

The unofficial nature of these brand activations within Animal Crossing means that brands can’t just buy their way into a cool new platform with a huge audience. It’s harder to pull off, so brands really have to want it, and think deeply about how to bring their concept to life. For Tatcha, the efforts to release Rice Wash virtually paid off. Nook Street Market has also worked with Betsey Johnson on in-game outfits.

“It has been the most successful launch we’ve had this year,” Henry said. “We saw traffic, engagement, awareness, and then eventually conversion. It ended up delivering beyond what we expected.”