Office Max: Lord of the Elf Dance Once Again

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

If the Web has spawned a holiday tradition, it may be the arrival of the annual “Elf Yourself’ mashup from business retailer Office Max.

The seasonal photo upload site first appeared in 2006 and garnered an impressive 36 million visits. Last year, it came back with more elves and grabbed almost five times that traffic—193 million visits. The 2008 version of the site rolled out last Saturday, and its enhancements may make it the most viral yet.

Visitors this year will be able to register for an account and upload photos of five friends to be elfinized. They can then put those five heads onto groups of dancing elves, create a video and send it to friends as an e-greeting card.

Users can choose this year from three new elf dances: disco, Charleston and country. They can also post the elves to their Facebook page or use a “quick post” option to place the video on profile pages in other social networks such as MySpace or Bebo.

For the first time, users will also be able to customize and buy “Elf Yourself” photo-gift items, including snowflake ornaments, mouse pads, coffee mugs and playing cards.

Office Max worked with agencies EVB and Toy to generate the first two versions of Elf yourself, but this year the retailer worked with JibJab, the animation company that made its name with political parodies a few years ago. JibJab operates a video and greeting card personalization platform called “Starring You!”

That platform will enable “Elf Yourself” users to store their photo uploads and substitute one or more new photos in a video without having to recreate it from scratch. They can also download the videos they make to their desktop and then burn them to a DVD or send them to a mobile phone.

Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing at Office Max, said the company first launched the mashup to have something to make its brand more visible at the holiday shopping time.

“As an office retailer, our Christmas is really the back-to-school season,” he said. “But we felt back then and even more now that Elf yourself is a brand enhancement. We want to bring the brand to life and let people see that this is a company that has fun.”

Gregg Spiridellis, co-founder of JibJab with his brother Evan and now its CEO, says the company approached Office Max about working together on the next Elf Yourself iteration back in January, after comScore Media Metrix named Elf the fastest growing site during the holiday season and www.JibJab.com the growth runner-up with its Starring You! personalized greeting feature.

“When I saw in January how incredibly successful ‘Elf Yourself’ had been last year, it just made a lot of sense to me that the two sites should partner,” Spiridellis said.

Before the launch of this year’s Office max campaign, 2.3 million users had registered for JibJab accounts.

Thacker said customers have been contacting Office Max via e-mail and snail mail for a while now, asking when the new “Elf Yourself” site would go live. He said visits are already tracking higher than at the same time last year with more than 700,000 to the site in its first five days. Users have already built almost 2 million elves.

“That’s total elves,” he points out. “Remember, there can be up to five elves in a video.”

Any prediction how high usage could go with the new social-media sharing features would only be a rough guess, Thacker said.

“I think the response we’ve had so far says that our nation, and maybe the world, is clamoring for a little bit of silliness this year,” he added.

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