Ikea has inked a deal with "The Sims 2" to provide an online content package, The Sims 2 Ikea Home Stuff, available in late June. And H&M, which signed on with the game last year to provide The Sims 2 H&M Fashion Stuff, is pushing its partnership from virtual world to real world.
The 'ultimate' in engagement
"It really is the ultimate in brand engagement," said Steve Seabolt, VP-global brand development for "The Sims," an Electronic Arts label game. "It really is a way to bring a product or a service into your virtual life, become familiar with it, play with it and, hopefully, incorporate it into your real life."
In a twist, H&M will feature "Sims 2"-themed products in stores this summer, complete with themed hang tags and in-store signage. The collaboration is the result of a design contest held by "The Sims," in which players could create items and showcase them in online fashion shows. The winning piece, a nautically inspired top, will be featured in several hundred stores around the world. Actual H&M designers had the final say in choosing the top, which was up against hundreds of submissions, said Stephen Lubomski, U.S. advertising manager at the retailer.
"We recognize that for our customer base, the media consumption patterns are constantly changing," Mr. Lubomski said. "Video games, and 'The Sims' in particular, are where they spend their entertainment time."
As for the furniture retailer, there aren't plans at this point to launch a design contest, similar to H&M's, that would land "Sims" products in Ikea stores. The partnership, however, does provide players with virtual versions of 60 of Ikea's well-known products, such as the Ektorp sofa and Leksvik coffee table. Players had been requesting the furnishings by name, prompting the collaboration, execs said.
Where the young are
"For Ikea, 'The Sims 2' represents a media channel," said Marty Marston, Ikea's U.S. commercial PR manager. "Ikea sees this as a great channel to reach the young and the young at heart to decorate their 'Sims' worlds with Ikea products in a fun and creative way."
The deal is similar to one inked with Ford last year to provide players with vehicles. "The Sims" now has the "dubious" distinction of being the largest Ford dealer in the world, having sold 2.5 million vehicles, said Mr. Seabolt. "There is no doubt in my mind that there are people that have bought Ford vehicles as a result of seeing it, loving it in the game and wanting one in real life," he said. "At the end of the day, what I would hope is that having players interact with these virtual items does inspire them to go to the store and want to have the item in real life."
"The Sims" instigated the relationship with both brands, which was described as a "direct relationship," more in the vein of a media placement, although no agency was used. However, the relationship with Ford was brokered by the automaker's media agency MindShare.
For Mr. Seabolt, the partnerships are essential to helping players customize their virtual worlds, not to mention that they represent fertile ground for marketers. The "Sims 2" has seen some 4.5 million unique visitors, while "The Sims" label has sold 100 million units. The game skews slightly female, Mr. Seabolt said, with a sweet spot in the mid-teen to 30-year-old age range. "If you're a brand, it's a safe place to be," he added. "It's a teen-rated experience, and we take our rating very seriously."
"The Sims" is in discussions with a number of partners, although it is being choosy to avoid turning off players with illogical tie-ins. "We have said no to a lot of companies," Mr. Seabolt said. "We've all watched product placements explode ... and we've all watched TV shows and movies, where [the placements don't make sense], and that's a position that we never want to put ourselves in, and we won't."
That said, Mr. Seabolt isn't shy about sharing his list of dream partners, which includes Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Electrolux, Honda and Zara. "If you can do it in the real world, you can do it in 'Sims,'" he said. "We're only limited by our imagination and the imagination of our prospective partners."