November 23, 2010, 2:48 PM

Old Navy turns to social gaming to build buzz for holiday sales

The retailer builds a virtual Old Navy store within a video game.

Lead Photo

The outside of Old Navy's virtual store

Pilots do it. So do soldiers, mariners, disaster-site workers and city planners.

Now shoppers with the urge to buy apparel from Old Navy, a Gap Inc. Direct brand, can use the simulated reality of a video game to refine their skills before testing them in the real world. The retailer, meanwhile, is trying to drum up sales through promotions and ad placements while creating a louder buzz for its product offerings, especially with the holiday season underway.

 Sure, it’s not combat, nor does it involve the safety or lifestyles of large numbers of fellow citizens, but the marketing effort, which formally kicked off this week, is another step in the marriage of the virtual and the concrete when it comes to retailing.

 

 

The retail brand, working with social game technology companies CrowdStar and Sibblingz, created a virtual Old Navy store inside the It Girl virtual reality game, which players can access via Facebook.

As the title suggests, the game tries to appeal to teenage girls and young adult women. Players operating avatars pretend they are living inside a big city, where they meet other avatars and shop for clothes inside digital representations of stores. The goal isn’t just about the traditional gaming focus of accumulating virtual treasure or currency. Players also strive to show off their virtual fashion hotness, according to a review of the game from Inside Social Games, a market research firm.

Players who visit the Old Navy store inside the game can grab virtual apparel and make virtual gifts to Facebook friends, the retailer says. Old Navy also is throwing two virtual holiday parties: A Black Friday-themed affair that lasts until Saturday, and which will feature a song-and-dance number called “The Gobble”; and a virtual rooftop party that will last from Saturday until New Year’s Eve.  “We hope our customers will have fun playing in the virtual Old Navy as much as they do shopping in our bricks-and-mortar stores,” says Amy Curtis-McIntyre, Old Navy’s senior vice president of marketing.

Not everything about Old Navy’s It Girl presence can be classified as a digital time waster, however. That’s because the retailer inserts into the It Girl world advertisements that display real-world apparel offers.

For instance, Old Navy will use the game to promote a top for women called Swanky Tanks, says Mark Hull, vice president and general manager of partnerships at CrowdStar. CrowdStar will discount the virtual version of the item in the game at the same time the discount is offered in stores. Players can RSVP for the promotion via Old Navy’s Facebook page. The discounts are available only in bricks-and-mortar stores.

“Most other promotions by other social gaming companies have been small, lightweight co-branding elements that were not central to the game,” he says. “It Girl's focus is shopping, and by shopping at the Old Navy store in It Girl, you're getting a fun, relevant experience that is deeply integrated to the core game experience.”

Gap is No. 23 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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