Viral content tends to travel a familiar arc, from obscurity to ubiquity to case study, usually in a matter of weeks. (When's the last time you watched the J&K Wedding Entrance video?) By that logic, audiences should have grown tired of OfficeMax's Elf Yourself, which has just gone live for its fourth straight holiday season, about three and a half years ago.
Aware of the challenge, OfficeMax is enhancing the application this time around with new features and capabilities. It is also using Tribal DDB to "harness the community" around the application and make it easier for people to share their creations.
"I draw the analogy that Elf Yourself is like a viral Christmas tree," Bob Thacker, SVP of marketing at OfficeMax, said. "You bring out the old ornaments, but you add new ones every year."
Elf Yourself allows consumers to customize videos of dancing elves with their own pictures. When it debuted in 2006, it received over 36 million site visits over two months. The next year, that number ballooned to 193 million, but dropped to 56 million in 2008, when OfficeMax added a registration requirement to the site.
This year, the registration is gone, and new social capabilities have taken its place. A tie-in with Facebook Connect allows users to upload photos from the social network and to post their Elf Yourself videos directly to their profiles. Users are also given the option to tweet their creations, or post them on nearly a dozen other networks, including Bebo and Orkut.
"All these tactics leverage the community," that already existed around Elf Yourself, Dave Schneider, SVP of client services at Tribal DDB, said. "It's become an annual tradition that people look forward to," he said, and OfficeMax wanted the agency to "put a social overlay over everything that's happening."
That social element goes beyond the application itself. Twitter users can now follow the elves at Twitter.com/ElfYourself (sample tweet: "Elf Wisdom: People typically look thinner in candy cane stripes"). The agency also filmed a flash mob of 400 dancers dressed as elves invading New York's Union Square and posted the video on YouTube, where it's been viewed about 52,000 times since Friday.
OfficeMax has also added new dances to the application, including disco and country dancing. Users can also order coffee mugs and other merchandise featuring their customized elves. Since going live on November 10, the site has garnered 600 percent more views than through the same period last year. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," Thacker said.
Since 2008, Office Max has partnered with JibJab to enhance the performance and distribution of the videos. The application wasÂ originally created by independent New York agency Toy.
As for the enduring popularity of the application, Schneider speculated, "On the most fundamental level, it's just having some fun."
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested JibJab was strictly a hosting provider for ElfYourself. Its role also included distribution and performance enhancement.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014