Offline holiday cards tend to be part cheer, part chore. Yet year in and year out, they're signed, stamped, and circulated far and wide. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans send over 1.9 billion holiday cards each year, making this the leading card-sending season by far.
Certainly, their labor-intensive nature contributes to the popularity of the online variety. E-cards deliver the ease of use we crave. They facilitate delivery to countless acquaintances with a few quick clicks of the mouse.
In other words, they're the ideal vehicle for a viral marketing campaign.
We're nearing the saturation point for broadband adoption. Nearly half of all U.S. home Internet users now have it, making it easy for them to effectively view rich media. Users are also demonstrating an ongoing predilection for viral marketing efforts. These are just a couple reasons online marketers are tapping into the potential of animated holiday e-cards.
Another reason is the desire to evoke humor and showcase a lighter, more idiosyncratic side. Holiday cards no longer only represent a fun way to thank customers and clients for their continued business. These engrossing, memorable applications can replace more conventional forms of holiday online promotion, such as banner ads, and complement campaigns that are played out in other channels.
This season features several unique offerings. One comes courtesy of Virgin Mobile, already known for its unconventional marketing stunts and ad campaigns. Following up last year's campaign, and rounded out with TV spots, the "Happy Christmahanukwanzakah" microsite allows users to send one of three holiday cards featuring video and animated clips of the characters relating to the cross-cultural, fictional holiday.
The Christmahanukwanzakah theme continues on the Virgin Mobile USA site, to which microsite visitors can link to browse, compare, or purchase new phones. Virgin mobile subscribers can also download holiday ring tones via the microsite.
Though you may be hard pressed to find product relevance in Virgin's viral e-cards (one musical video features the line, "I have a Christmahanukwanzakah dreidel, I made it out of non-pork meat") and the humor is far from universal, Virgin's holiday e-card effort is certainly consistent with the company's eccentric image. It's also a clever way to drive qualified traffic to its online store. Those who choose to leave the engaging microsite by clicking the clearly marked "Virgin Mobile Phones" link are likely to have a transactional purpose.
Thanks, But No Thanks
On the business-to-business (B2B) side, there are similar offerings from the interactive agency I work with. Taking a different promotional approach with its holiday e-card, Enlighten developed a customizable online tool that generates a somewhat unconventional holiday message.
The Holiday Party Excuse Generator allows Internet users eager to avoid an objectionable holiday party to create and send a unique excuse. After completing a brief online questionnaire in which they're asked to indicate the nature of the party, their feelings toward the host, and so on, users are provided with a personalized excuse letter that can be delivered via email.
In addition to spreading some holiday joy, the application was developed to boost branding and showcase the agency's innovative interactive marketing services -- something that can be difficult to do in a more traditional Web ad campaign. There are about 140 variations to the letter, based on five simple user inputs.
"We wanted the variations to appear endless," says Steve Glauberman, Enlighten's chairman and CEO. "And a viral component was essential. We wanted something that was engaging and irreverent; something unique enough for visitors to interact with and then pass on."
Though it's still early (the initiative only recently launched), initial data show the average user spends 10:40 minutes on the Enlighten-branded microsite, which links back to the corporate site. Sixty percent of visits to date were at least 10 page views long. So far, the viral card is proving to be both engaging and immersive, two fervently sought attributes in online ad campaigns.
When next year's holiday season rolls around, consider tabling your banner ad campaign in lieu of a unique promotional approach. Make your offering original enough that it's perceived as worth sharing, and link back to your product or service site to ensure your effort produces some tangible results. I can't think of a better way to promote a company with some festive flare. When it comes to boosting branding, and ultimately sales, holiday e-cards really deliver.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.