Elf Yourself – Thomas Billison and Mitchell Barnette

Check Yourself Before you Elf Yourself

Introduction:

You know it’s that special time of year again, the weather gets colder, joyous decorations of various sorts begin to adjourn happy households, and glad tidings fill the air. You may also see some creepy elves dancing on your computer screens, with familiar faces attached. These are the hallmarks of the modern Christmas season, as companies start to become the main cause of holiday cheer. This is especially true for OfficeMax who were the creators of the highly successful Elf Yourself campaign that drew in millions of users, drawn by the allure of plastering their faces on dancing elves to the sound of remixed Christmas songs. The reasons for this unparalleled success was that the website directly allowed its users to be involved in the Christmas fun by having them put their likeness on a dancing elf. Due to this direct connection a user has with the website and the fact that it became and easy process to share, Elf Yourself became the cultural phenomenon that is today. However despite its many successes, there has been a couple of shortcomings that have arisen from the campaign throughout its history. The Elf Yourself website has brought OfficeMax to the forefront of many people’s mind during the Christmas season. But since its conception, there have been a number of knock-offs that pose a potential threat to the original website, causing confusion to users trying to partake in the holiday fun. Despite this shortcoming among others, the Elf Yourself campaign has shown a nearly consistent growth these past years, further ingraining itself as a common tradition for the holiday season.

Background:

Elf Yourself started as one of twenty choices, rather potential ideas for OfficeMax’s Christmas campaign. OfficeMax, seeking the help of the internet (and eventually social media), contacted their plans for a holiday marketing campaign to a company called Toy New York (Toy). Toy was charged with helping present ideas for their campaign. OfficeMax’s senior vice president of marketing Bob Thacker initiated this plan, Asking Toy to present him with twenty possible websites for the company to use as part of their newest promotion. Toy in turn contracted this task out to multiple companies to produce the twenty options. Evolution Bureau (EVB), one of the companies contracted by Toy, was the original creator of the Elf Yourself website. What Elf Yourself did was give visitors of the website the opportunity to put their face on the body of an elf and watch your elf-self dance. Although this version of the Elf Yourself website had only one elf available for customization, it still became very popular.

The link above is a video that is very similar to the original videos produced by the Elf Yourself website, minus the JibJab logo. The OfficeMax marketing department then chose this fun and interactive elf website to become the centerpiece of their winter campaign. Soon they were advertising the new website on television using the news and commercials to gather the public’s attention. By the time the website was officially launched in December of 2006, it was an instant success. Within the time span of five weeks, the website had more than 36 million views resulting in the creation of 11 million dancing elves.

OfficeMax then brought back the Elf Yourself website the next year, having EVB improve upon its design by adding multiple elves instead of just one. This further boosted the sites popularity. The amount of views they received in 2007 was quadruple the amount the website had the last year. Due to the tremendous success of the Elf Yourself website, tons of knock offs were made trying to cash in on the originals success. In response, OfficeMax and Toy employ the services of EVB again, leading to the development to Scrooge yourself in 2009.

By 2008 however OfficeMax moved maintenance and development of the Elf Yourself website to a company known as JibJab. This company is known for its “Starring you” videos, that are very similar to the original Elf Yourself platform. When JibJab first took on the mantle of caring for the site, they added a registration requirement that ended up hindering the success of the website that year. As a result they removed the registration the next year, and started to enhance the website. They added a social media aspect to the videos that they never had before. Users could now share their creation among the various social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore is either of those didn’t suit the engaged audience member, they could then download and share directly to their platform of choice. Another social media aspect of the Elf Yourself campaign is the use of viral videos to promote their website. OfficeMax organized a flash mob to take place at Time Square in New York to the theme of Elf Yourself. This was of course recorded and became a viral hit, even becoming one of the top 10 flash mobs of 2009.

In 2012, Elf Yourself once again changed hands and is now maintained by Oddcast. The executive producer, Rock Fraire, decided to revamp the website. This time there were fewer dancing elves, but the website became easier and faster to use. OfficeMax also invested in developing mobile apps for the Elf Yourself campaign. They originally developed an app for iOS, becoming the second most downloaded app during the winter season. As of 2013, OfficeMax expanded the app to android, and created more dances for people to use.

The Elf Yourself website is still functional today. If you go to the link bellow, you can see the count down to its release this year.

http://www.elfyourself.com/

Response:

Since its release to the public in 2006, the Elf Yourself campaign has received widespread critical and commercial success. There was over 35 million visitors to the website, which then resulted in the creation of over 12 million elves in the span of simply five weeks. While the original numbers and statistics are very impressive it wasn’t till the following year that the campaign truly blew up. The campaign became widespread across multiple forms of media. One example of the acclaim attributed to the Elf Yourself campaign was its time spent on television, where a number of talk show and news outlets reported and even partook in the festivities. It grew so popular that 1 out of every 10 Americans elfed themselves, which in turn made Elf Yourself the 55th most visited site of that year. Furthermore it propelled OfficeMax to the forefront of every one’s mind. It was reported in a study that 47% of people who used Elf Yourself, evoked thoughts of OfficeMax. On top of this, 1/3rd of people claimed that Elf Yourself influenced them to shop at OfficeMax, thus making it an incredible strong brand motivator.

Beyond commercial success, the Elf Yourself campaign has won a number of important accolades, such as the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association Award for Interactive Online Campaign in 2007. It would go on to win this award again the following year, while also winning other honors along with it. While the campaign continued to steadily grow in popularity, it wouldn’t be until 2009 that it would see a huge resurgence again. This particularly due to a big marketing stunt that OfficeMax conducted to gain public awareness. This ploy, which was themed like the website, involved 400 professional dancers dancing as elf’s in Time Square. This was circulated around the internet under the guise of a “flash mob”. However the marketing push didn’t stop there, OfficeMax used the strategy of celebrity endorsement to further push their campaign. By sending Ellen DeGeneres an early version of the app, she then featured it on her show, thus gaining the interest of her millions of viewers. Soon other celebrities and TV personals jumped on the bandwagon, endorsing the OfficeMax campaign even more. This resurgence of growth has helped place the Elf Yourself website where it is today. As a result, there is no denying that the Elf Yourself campaign has successfully generated copious amounts of positive responses. Its popularity and acclaim has solidified the Elf Yourself website as a cultural staple for the holiday season.

Strengths:

One of the strongest parts of OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself campaign is its constant evolution over time, striving to become bigger and better. The website originated with only one dancing elf that you could customize. Then as OfficeMax saw the value in this campaign they put more money into its development. As the project switched hands each company added more and more to its design. This ultimately led to the success of their website. The video below is one example of how this process took place. It documents the behind the scenes moments of the Elf Yourself development, showing how the developers were able to add more elves and more dances to the website over time.

Another strong aspect of the OfficeMax Christmas campaign is their use of the internet, and eventually social media. The Elf Yourself campaign was originally a website, granting this campaign easy access to all of the users on the internet. Eventually as the website was developed, OfficeMax and its partners added social media elements to it. This allowed users to share their creations over Facebook and twitter. This new addition to the Elf Yourself name boosted their notoriety very quickly, resulting in even more conversions than before.

Recently, OfficeMax has continued its smart marketing campaign by going mobile. As smartphones have become a cornerstone of society, many social media campaigns have adapted to become successful in this new market. OfficeMax released Elf Yourself as an app for apple originally, then android soon after. This gave users a simpler way to create funny new elf videos and share while they are using their phone.

Overall, the strengths of the OfficeMax Elf Yourself campaign can be summed up with their ability to use the media at the time. Originally using a web platform got the elves popular, then adding in elements of social media and sharing has made them famous. Now Elf Yourself is a common Christmas tradition in many households.

Weaknesses:

While a thunderstorm since its inception, the Elf Yourself campaign did have some mishaps along the way. The most notable being that during the first couple of years of its existence, it was very difficult for people to share their elven creations. Originally, you could only share it through email, which was rapidly becoming outdated. Another stumble that negatively affected the campaign was that users had to register under the JibJab ownership, forcing users to create account in order to elf themselves. At this point in time, people are starting to experiencing high levels of social fatigue on the internet. This is where people are tired of creating new accounts due to the heavy burden of having to remember all of the information across the multitude social media sites they already use. Thankfully as the campaign continued to evolve, the idea of registration was taken away. The website even increased ways for the user to share their much beloved dancing elves through the use of the major social media hubs. Furthermore as long as OfficeMax continues to make it easier to share their content while also allowing anyone to make a dancing elf regardless of creating account, then they will continue on their path of positive growth.

While most of the earlier weaknesses have been addressed, there is still a couple that could potentially cause problems in the near future. Since the wake of its creations, there has been many knock offs that have tried to emulate the success of Elf Yourself. Fortunately most of them failed to imitate the aspects that made the original website a success. Although these rip offs has posed very little treat, there is still a chance that one could become more successful, which could ultimately cause confusion among social consumers. A related threat is that a highly offensive knock off could be made that could end up being damaging to the brand at large. To combat these threats OfficeMax must constantly be aware of the competition so that they can remain on top.

Conclusion:

In conclusion the OfficeMax Elf Yourself Christmas campaign became a viral success due to the internet and advertising. Using the internet as a platform for an interactive website is perfect for getting the attention of the public if done right. Under the theme of Christmas cheer, the Elf Yourself campaign became a fun and exciting thing people wanted to be a part of. This and their clever advertisement strategy got Elf Yourself thrust into the spotlight of internet fame. Building upon this success, OfficeMax continued to improve upon the website by making it easier to access and share. Eventually the development of mobile apps helped to bring the campaign into the present. There is no denying that this campaign has had a monumental impact on social media marketing, even becoming a new holiday tradition that is enjoyed by millions. If you still aren’t convinced then you can go Elf Yourself!

References:

http://dmwmedia.com/news/2007/12/13/analysis-office-max-has-a-viral-hit-with-elf-yourself

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/viral-videos-spread-holiday-cheer/

http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/74695/

http://www.clickz.com/clickz/news/1692028/officemax-adds-social-element-elf-yourself-2009

http://www.madisonavenuejournal.com/2008/04/07/office_maxs_elf_yourself/

http://www.ultimatecoupons.com/blog/2011/03/the-history-of-elf-yourself-the-elfin%E2%80%99-evolution/

http://news.officedepot.com/press-release/officemax-marketing-news/elves-are-back

http://hamptonroads.com/entertainment/195351/2006/12/elf-yourself-holiday-ecards

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_Yourself

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Elf Yourself – Thomas Billison and Mitchell Barnette

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