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A Curmudgeonly Look at Holiday E-Cards

  |  December 24, 2008   |  Comments

Cutsey photos of employees don't cut it.

Last December, I wrote two glowing columns about holiday e-cards focusing on the environmental benefits of e-delivery and also some of the more creative approaches that crossed my inbox.

This December, I wish I could be as complimentary. But truthfully, I'm finding this year's crop of e-cards to be disappointing and to some degree, slightly offensive -- especially to someone like me who really loves the holiday season.

Take a look at this well-intentioned e-mail card from Bulldog Solutions. I'm sure it was all done in good fun, but I wonder about the judgment of upper management who let it be released.

I was immediately turned off by the initial image of the nice young woman and her chainsaw saying, "I love to get my 'buzz' on during the holidays." It reminded me of a holiday card I'd get from a beer distributor.

From there, it went from bad to worse. I cringed at some of the cutesy photos of employees in their pajamas. But the quotes about their favorite things to do during the holidays such as "The boozing...and the napping" and "The only time you can give the bird and get away with it" struck me as exceedingly bad taste.

Now, it's not that I have no sense of humor. I've brought in leading comedy writers to write quirky, nontraditional ads that had people falling off their chairs laughing. When you're sending out business-to-business e-mail, you need to be more careful than when you are posting a video to your personal Facebook page.

Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Plan your holiday promotions early and get senior management involved from the beginning. Many times holiday promotions are relegated to the junior staff -- as a chance to be creative and because holiday promotions are not seen as strategic management objectives. But remember, you're sending your holiday promotions to your very best customers. Be sure that you are completely comfortable sending your e-card to the customer who has the ultimate authority to sign off on your contracts.

  • Consider that many people have very strong feelings about holidays. No matter how it has been commercialized, Christmas is a religious holiday -- so be careful and stay within the boundaries of good taste. Also, remember that we live in a culturally diverse country and that this is not everyone's holiday.

  • If you're going to be funny, then be laugh-out-loud-funny. Generally, I find that inside jokes are just that -- only relevant to people inside the company -- they usually don't translate well outside its borders. Hire a comedian if you can afford it -- and even then, send the joke around to a group of your most critical colleagues to make sure everyone really gets it. As you know, even the best comedians tell jokes that fall flat -- and they take those jokes out of their routines after testing them on audience. With an e-card, you have only one chance to get in front of your audience, so make sure it is really funny before going live.

  • Think twice before using employee photos in your e-card. While in theory it's nice to show pictures of real people in advertising, there's a reason why most companies use models and actresses. Your most valued employees may not be your most photogenic people. I'm saying this from experience. When I worked in an agency years ago, we tried one of those "real employee" campaigns -- having a photographer come to the office to take pictures of us all. Let's just say that after reviewing the photos, management decided to go with another concept. The fact is, in the real world, not every employee is going to reflect your corporate image.

Some other thoughts based on this year's holiday e-card offerings:

  • Don't use animation for the sake of animation. I've sat through more time-wasting animated cards than I can count. Animation is no longer a novelty, so don't use it unless it really adds value to your message. It's the same decision you make when you decide whether to advertise with a print ad, TV ad or radio -- you need to match the message to the right medium.

  • Use a bona fide graphic designer. Today's e-cards remind me of the early days of desktop publishing -- when suddenly everyone was a graphic designer. Your e-cards should be just as professionally created as your annual report with clean graphics, sharp photographs, and classic typefaces. Remember, your holiday e-card could offer the final impression of your company that your recipient will see for the year. So make it a really top-notch representation of your brand.

  • If you want to be wacky, create a "friends and family" version that you only send to employees. But be careful -- anything can be forwarded and sent to the general public.

  • Consider a New Year's card instead of a holiday card. New Year's is a more culturally neutral holiday and it also brings with it a sense of new opportunity. It could be the ideal way to put forth an exciting vision of your company for the year ahead.

On that note, my best wishes to everyone who celebrates the winter holidays! And all the best for the New Year.

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Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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