On the cusp of the 2020 Presidential Election, Joe Biden needed to mobilize voters across the country and raise the stakes in driving voter awareness to his campaign. But in the name of public safety during a global pandemic, there was no way of canvassing, holding rallies, or door knocking. The Biden For President campaign needed a big socially-distanced boost to market itself to younger voters. So we sought to meet these young supporters where they already were. And they were playing the biggest game of the year: Animal Crossing. Which posed the question: what if you could bring Joe’s ground game... to a video game?
Animal Crossing had become the game of the COVID era. A soothing escape from a tumultuous year, the life-simulation game of 22 million players was a virtual space where American voters were creating their own islands, visiting their friends’, socializing — and even organizing.
So we met these politically-inclined players where they already were.
First, we gave players a piece of the campaign so they could show support in their own virtual front yards. We used a free platform to create a yard sign design that was infinitely accessible to anyone with Animal Crossing. Supporters found a link to the downloadable yard sign design on the @TeamJoe Twitter account and could integrate it into their game. At a time when physical yard signs were on backorder, this was a simple yet powerful way for Animal Crossing’s nation to show its support.
It. Went. Viral. Every press outlet and everyone from Edward Snowden to Kanye West to Trump’s White House Press Secretary had something to say about it. We accumulated billions of press impressions, organic conversion, and content creation on every major social platform.
Leveraging this response, and with help from the Animal Crossing community, our yard signs helped drive voter awareness for Biden for President– but we then sought to double down on increasing voter engagement.
Enter: virtual merch drops. To further empower these supporters, we created free Biden-Harris merchandise that could be worn inside of the game. The sweatshirt, T-shirt, and baseball cap designs all mirrored the actual swag Biden for President was selling through its own ecomm store. We even hid the virtual merch as Easter eggs inside of the store, alongside real clothing.
In a final push with three weeks before the election, we galvanized supporters by creating a campaign headquarters inside of the Animal Crossing game. We called it ‘Biden Island.’
We launched Biden Island by offering influential gaming personalities an exclusive guided tour through the island, before the public was allowed in. Kinda Funny Games co-hosts Gary Whitta and Greg Miller live-streamed their tour on Twitch and shared out the code to our island at the end of the 20-minute streamed walk-through, officially welcoming supporters to Joe’s virtual doorstep.
We built, decorated, and shaped our island completely from scratch. A space for grassroots organizing, our island was filled with touchpoints that empowered visitors to vote and get others to do the same. We created a polling station, where visitors were pushed to IWillVote.com to solidify their voting plans. At our in-game field office, they could see the Biden-Harris camp hard at work in the lead up to the election and get to know the candidates better. With our ‘text AC to 30330’ call-to-action, supporters could learn about volunteer initiatives. We even created a White House where players could meet Joe– sporting his signature aviator sunglasses, maybe with an ice cream cone– and his then-running mate Kamala.
In recognizing the validity of gaming and virtual online environments, Biden for President became the first presidential campaign in history to successfully engage voters in this space.
In a tiered-approach in the lead up to the election, we drove voter awareness and voter engagement for the Biden for President campaign without spending a single media dollar. Every detail of our strategy was designed so Biden-Harris constituents could show their support online– and eventually show up at the polls.
Over 150,000 Animal Crossing players visited the island, with many proclaiming that, not only was this “definitely made by a pro gamer” (The Washington Post) but that their “vote = secured.” While only the most passionate took the time to visit every nook and cranny of the island, a massive audience was exposed to it online through their content. Biden Island saw 20MM views across YouTube TikTok, and Twitch and was the #1 trending topic on Twitter in the weeks before the election. With zero media dollars spent and a newfound way of talking to young voters, Biden for President proved that changing how political parties campaigned could change the game.