Animal Crossing: New Horizons has taken the world by storm. In its first week in the UK, the Nintendo game sold more copies than the launch sales of all previous Animal Crossing games combined, beating the launch of every other single Switch game so far. It’s not hard to see why: the simplicity of the game, in which players grow fruit, go fishing, and visit their friends’ islands is incredibly soothing in this time of global anxiety. “It’s an escape from quarantine life,” says Yue Li, Tong’s Digital Strategist and Animal Crossing aficionado.
But Animal Crossing is not just a fun way to kill time. As Yue explains, it’s the latest target for “trendjacking” campaigns in China. “Trendjacking (or 蹭热点 in Chinese) is when brands jump on trends to produce content they hope will engage and resonate with consumers.” With over 1.7 billion impressions on its official Weibo hashtag, and prices of the game on reselling sites reaching almost double the RRP, Animal Crossing’s legions of Chinese fans are a clear target for companies seeking innovative ways to boost sales in the aftermath of COVID-19.
On April 2nd, only 12 days after the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, one of the earliest Animal Crossing campaigns was published on Bilibili by supermarket chain Hema Fresh (盒马生鲜). The video, which has been seen over 228,000 times, tells the story of an Alibaba employee who decides to build a Hema supermarket in the game. We see him catch fish and display them in his store, which resonates with Hema’s key brand message of fresh produce. A short tutorial on how to draw Hema’s logo encourages viewers to create their own store.
The results of this campaign were impressive, with over 12,700 engagements on Hema’s Weibo page, up 643% from their average engagement rate. “The success of the campaign came from its creativity,” says Yue, “Hema managed to release this right when Animal Crossing hype was reaching fever pitch on Chinese social media. They highlighted their USP of freshly caught fish, and engaged young people, their target audience, in an innovative way.”
Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides a multitude of DIY and customisation options for artwork, clothing and furniture. Brands have made the most of these to jump on the Animal Crossing trend. Hey Tea （喜茶）and i-D magazine hired Animal Crossing pros to produce artwork which players can copy and display on their own islands. KFC even designed a whole restaurant – but unfortunately without any fried chicken.
Apparel brands including Net-A-Porter have created Animal Crossing outfits based on their real-life collections in a bid to engage younger consumers. As of yet, brands are unable to sell or distribute these virtual products, so these campaigns have led to some nice screenshots for marketing but little else. Yue thinks these fashion campaigns “are just jumping on the bandwagon. They need to be more creative, as players can’t engage with their creations. It’s important for companies to show their brand DNA.” Interestingly, young Animal Crossing players have been designing their own virtual clothes, often based on their favourite off-line designers. For now, this is just a fun way to express your avatar’s individuality but perhaps hints at a future where virtual fashion will make up a key component of brands’ offerings.
“Trendjacking” isn’t limited to Animal Crossing, and is playing an increasingly important role in social commerce strategies. So, how can brands use it to their advantage? Some trends, like seasons, festivals, and events are foreseeable and content should be planned in advance. Other unforeseeable trends like the weather (such as this year’s surprisingly sunny spring in the UK), disasters (like COVID-19), and memes (such as Animal Crossing) require brands to react quickly to create relevant campaigns.
A successful trendjacking campaign should achieve three things: exposure, engagement, and resonation. “By effectively capturing trends, brands will get more exposure,” explains Yue. “Platform algorithms on sites like Weibo prioritise trending content, which in turn drives engagement. People are more likely to engage with content that isn’t purely commercial but also adds to a hot topic online.” Not only will well-crafted trendjacking content engage consumers, but it will resonate with them – showing that the brand understands their experience, and is relevant to their online experiences. If trends can be captured wisely, content will boost a brand’s online presence and increase sales in the long term.
Given the opportunities trendjacking presents, it is vital for brands to understand how to implement it in their Chinese social commerce strategies. Firstly, it’s essential to diligently monitor trends online, so you’re able to react quickly before the moment passes. Yue recommends using Weibo Trends, WeChat Analytics, Baidu and Sougou search engine to spot trends with potential. Working with a Chinese colleague who has their finger on the pulse of China’s social media ecosystem is indispensable to spot opportunities that will work well with your brand.
Having identified an emerging trend, brands must next analyse if it’s appropriate to engage. For example, does the trend organically fit with your brand image? Or will it look cynical and overly commercial to try to use it to promote your products? If the trend relates to a celebrity, do they share your brand’s values? Will promoting them undermine a KOL you’ve already developed a relationship with? Will you accidentally offend an army of fans? It’s important to remember China’s netizens can be fiercely devoted to their idols, and are not afraid to boycott brands they perceive to have slighted them. We helped Shay and Blue take advantage of a cyberwar in which millions of free speech activists boycotted brands linked to an idol after his fans campaigned to close down a publishing platform after homoerotic fanfic about him was posted. “We created posts showcasing Shay and Blue’s support for all genders, which was received really well by our target customers who share the same values as the brand,” says Yue.
It’s also important to consider a trend’s political correctness, bearing in mind the strong nationalist beliefs held by many Chinese consumers – something the WWF learned recently with a post about World Forests Day. Consider whether or not to include key hashtags: they can help increase exposure, but if the trend ends up being a flash-in-the-pan, your content can quickly become outdated. If you decide against hashtags, make sure to include key identifiers, so viewers will immediately understand your intent.
When it comes to implementing trendjacking, make sure your content can be produced quickly and easily, so you don’t miss the crest of the wave. Just like Hema’s Animal Crossing campaign, make sure to highlight your brand’s USP, and make a decision on whether promoting your brand’s identity or a particular product is more relevant to the trend. Of course, creativity is the most important aspect of trendjacking. “Make sure your content responds innovatively to the trend and aligns with your brand’s online identity” advises Yue. Once your trendjacking content is out there, manage it effectively: track any negative reactions and developments. The best trendjacking content should inspire user-generated content, and create new trends.
Here at Tong, we’ve enjoyed experimenting with trendjacking. In February, we worked with Malone Souliers to create a WeChat article inspired by a highly popular Taiwanese TV show, “Someday or One Day” (想见你）which premiered in November 2019. “Our concept was to link different shoe styles to a different type of love,” explains Yue. “I was really pleased with how this campaign turned out. “Someday or One Day” fits really well with Malone Souliers’ romantic and classy brand image, and the majority of viewers are young women, our target audience.”
Trendjacking can have great results, but getting it right can feel overwhelming. We’ve been helping dozens of brands respond to the coronavirus, so please do reach out. You can play Animal Crossing in peace whilst we streamline your brand’s Chinese social commerce strategy!