Why Ally Bank built an island on Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing: New Horizons video game players are anxiously awaiting their turn to sell their virtual turnips to Ally Financial, and they can’t wait. On Twitter this week, players complained of the hours of waiting to enter the lush Ally Island and redeem their bounty for record-breaking rewards in the so-called “Rod Market.”
But what does Ally Financial do in a video game? What is a lagging market?
For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing is a life-simulation video game franchise from Nintendo. In the latest edition, New Horizons, players plant flowers, decorate their homes, and more to spruce up a desert island populated by affable dodo-like creatures that run an inter-island airport.
In Ally’s case, joining the game is part of the $ 172.9 billion digital bank’s strategy to reach young customers, teach financial literacy, and humanize its brand.
“This has always been a major focus for us,” said Andrea Brimmer, director of marketing and public relations at Ally Financial, headquartered in Detroit. “As a digital bank, how do you have as many human connection points as possible? “
A number of financial institutions have experimented with different ways of reaching younger customers. JPMorgan Chase recently launched a bank account for children as young as six. Clinton Savings Bank in Clinton, Mass., is exploring a social media ambassador program and sponsoring an online financial education program for local schools. Texas Tech Credit Union in Arlington, Texas, posted an interactive game on social media last year.
The New Horizons game debuted on March 20 and broke sales records as lockdowns set in. According to the data and analytics company NPD Group, based in Port Washington, NY, the platform on which New Horizons is set, Nintendo Switch, sold a record number of hardware units in the United States in March and Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the best-selling video game this month.
Gamification is a good way to motivate people of all ages to adopt positive financial behaviors and make progress toward financial goals, but it is most effective when it occurs in context, said Heidi Johnson, director of the behavioral economics at the Financial Health Network, a financial wellness organization. Chicago-based advocacy group. It means in a real financial decision, not a hypothetical one.
“Gamified financial education can be an improvement over traditional financial education because it is engaging and fun,” Johnson said, “but the key to its effectiveness is its relevance and timeliness.”
A life simulation video game may not be quite the real world. But Brimmer was inspired to incorporate Ally’s presence in the game after seeing his college-aged kids immerse themselves in New Horizons in March.
“I saw it was literally a game on the bank,” she said. “I realized it was a natural fit.”
Players earn bells, the in-game currency, by fishing, picking fruit, or completing other tasks, then use those bells to purchase clothing, equipment, and home upgrades. Every Sunday, players can buy turnips for around 100 bells each. Later, they will try to sell them to the raccoons who run the shops on the island for as high a profit as they can (prices in the “stalk market” change twice a day) before the turnips run out. spoil themselves at the end of the week.
The Brimmer team worked with Ally’s creative agency Anomaly to conceptualize the integration. Ally Island is not part of a formal partnership with Nintendo; any brand can build their own island in the game.
To create the buzz ahead of the island’s debut, the bank recruited a player known as KangGaming to demonstrate their interactions with Ally Island on the Twitch live streaming platform on October 23, which became the eighth most watched stream on Twitch that night. Ally has promoted her integration with Animal Crossing on social media and placed digital ads on websites where gamers congregate, such as Wired.com and Fortune.com.
Brimmer wanted players to have fun rather than having to learn about Ally products. A big draw on Ally Island was the Ally Turnip Swap, where players could recently redeem their turnips for 1,000 bells each. (Ally staff spent several weeks in the game collecting the number of bells needed to cover this high award.) Ally Island also features a golf tournament, its “Little Detroit” headquarters, and a tribute race track. to his NASCAR sponsorship. driver Jimmie Johnson.
The main objective is to create a positive feeling towards the brand. The hope is that new customers will follow.
Ally deposit accounts and other products are not advertised directly on Animal Crossing. Instead, players can find more information on the Ally Island landing page when they redeem their island entry code. Ally plans to market players via email at a later date.
Brimmer predicts it will be months before the company can understand the results of this effort. But a week later, “We had an overwhelming demand,” Brimmer said. “It was almost too good.”
At one point, 125,000 players visited the Ally Island landing page. Disgruntled gamers have complained on social media about the hours of waiting in a digital queue to tour the island, which can only take eight people at a time.
“After 24 hours and a million refreshed pages to get into the queue … me and my daughter … are very disappointed and still stuck with home loans to repay Mr. Nook,” reads a tweet from Tuesday. (Mr. Nook is one of the resident raccoons.)
“It’s part of the learning process,” admitted Brimmer.
But she also received a lot of positive feedback, including comments from players via Twitch and Twitter who announced their intention to open an Ally account. She also noticed that players mellow when they realize that real Ally employees are running the island and conducting interactions, rather than a computer program working behind the scenes. Several players recently tweeted their joy after an Ally Island resident delivered surprise gifts of bells to their islands.
The original plan was to close Ally Island on November 6, but Brimmer and his team are now reconsidering that date.
This is not the first time that Ally Financial has capitalized on a game rooted in real financial transactions. In 2019, Ally launched Ally + Monopoly, an augmented reality game that turned six US cities into live Monopoly boards.
Ally also found a way to fit into the 2018 Super Bowl without buying ads: an interactive mobile game called Ally Big Save, where users downloaded an app, entered a savings goal, and, using augmented reality, could collect money accumulating in their homes during commercials breaks. Twitter recognized Ally Financial as one of the best campaigns during the Super Bowl, as the brand without a national TV spot that generated the highest percentage of conversations about the brand.
Such campaigns are part of a concerted effort. Several years ago, Brimmer assembled an innovation team to study gamification and new media.
At the same time, Ally reflects on how he can appeal to all ages through financial literacy.
For elementary school children, Ally is working on a play experience to accompany her “Planet Zeee” series of books that teaches good money habits.
In early 2021, Ally will launch a financial education edition of another video game for school-aged children.
Animal Crossing “sits in just the right place not only of our rich Millennial targets, but Gen Z as well, who will be the next big generation to revolve around our brand,” said Brimmer. But gaming is crossing demographics: According to a 2020 Entertainment Software Association report, 38% of video game players in the United States are between 18 and 34 years old, while 26% of gamers are between 35 and 54 years old. .
Brimmer is still learning the ropes of Animal Crossing, but she’s mastered the lingo better than she was several weeks ago.
“This is the first piece of creation where I had to call my son at school and say, ‘I need you on this one, mate,'” she said.